Dementia diagnosis crisis looms

THE Borders is facing the worrying situation that while it may be the Scottish region with the highest percentage of its population over the age of 65, it is lagging way behind the rest of Scotland when it comes to the diagnosis of dementia.

Statistics reveal that only 40 per cent of those estimated to be suffering from dementia in the Borders have actually had it confirmed by a medical diagnosis.

That means that of the approximately 1,800 dementia sufferers that are believed to exist in the Borders, only a little over 700 have had the disease confirmed by a doctor. It means there could be more than 1,000 dementia sufferers trying to cope at home either by themselves or with the support of a family member as a carer.

Such is its concern over the situation, that Alzheimer Scotland intends launching a localised campaign in the Borders at the beginning of next month to try to raise public awareness of why it is important for anyone worried about loss of memory or finding themselves frequently confused, to make an appointment to see their GP.

There will also be a conference staged in Kelso on October 6, organised jointly between Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council.

Stephen Fox, Alzheimer Scotland’s Borders resource worker, says the region appears to be trailing behind almost everywhere else in Scotland when it comes to diagnosis rates for the illness.

“There is real concern that levels of diagnosis of dementia here in the Borders are falling behind national averages – indeed we now appear in the bottom league,” he told TheSouthern this week.

“There are agreed regional prevalence rates, generated by Alzheimer Scotland and the Scottish Executive, and these have proved correct in all other parts of the country, so we must assume that they are also correct for the Borders.

“Why levels of diagnosis are lower in the Borders than the rest of Scotland is the subject of much debate – reasons could include low levels of public awareness; a lack of acceptance that this is an illness and not just normal ‘forgetful old age’ and a view of why diagnose when ‘apparently’ little can be done about the disease.

“But this is a situation that requires change, and indeed, the Scottish Executive is expecting to see change in the Borders.

“There is now a Scottish Borders Dementia Strategy agreed between NHS Borders, SBC and Alzheimer Scotland and which has at its heart a service open to all who need support.”

And Mr Fox pointed out that there is another hidden crisis developing in the Borders as far as dementia is concerned.

“Family carers are the core of the service and unless there is a diagnosis these carers are marginalised and not included in the expanding support network.”

Jane Douglas, speaking on behalf of the Borders Dementia Strategy Partnership, commented: “We are pleased that Alzheimer Scotland is raising this issue. Diagnosis is a most important and complex issue and it is true that rate of diagnosis is lagging in the Borders.

“People may become aware that their memory or their partner’s memory is failing, but may not know what to do about it or whether there is anything they can do.

“Raising awareness and providing information of what to do is therefore very important. It is also the case that some people are reluctant to seek a diagnosis.

“The Borders Dementia Strategy has been devised by a wide group of agencies, and subjected to public consultation. A primary objective is to raise awareness about dementia and diminish the stigma which surrounds its diagnosis.”

NHS Borders’ medical director, Dr Ross Cameron, said the organisation recognised the challenging issues around the early diagnosis and management of people with a dementia that it faced in achieving the national target.

And he added it was undertaking a range of activities to ensure dementia is responded to as a priority across the organisation and as a result says NHS Borders’ performance in meeting the target was gradually improving.

But Mr Fox issued a warning: “The Borders is in the middle of service development for dementia sufferers and without the corresponding diagnosis rates, resources will not be ploughed into that development.”