Scotland has launched its first ever dementia strategy to boost the care and support of patients in the country as well as cement the government’s commitment to back research into the disease.

The strategy - the overriding aim of which is to provide world class dementia care and treatment in Scotland - is underpinned by eight specific actions to lift the outlook for patients with the condition, including improving hospital care and treatment following diagnosis.

For one, in another Scottish first, new national standards of care for people with dementia are to be developed and implemented, which will be based in part on the Charter of Rights produced by the Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on dementia.

Also high on the agenda is: producing a framework to help improve the skills and knowledge of staff on both the health and social care side; boosting rates of diagnosis so that more patients can get access to information, treatment and care; and ensuring that patients get access to appropriate treatment and support, “with a particular focus on reducing the inappropriate use of psychoactive medication”, as this can have potentially harmful side-effects.

Dementia – which covers a range of brain diseases involving a progressive decline in mental functioning – already poses a significant drain on health resources, but its burden looks set to snowball with a rising incidence of the condition, and so health services must ensure they are able to cope with swelling demand.

In Scotland alone, around 71,000 people suffer from dementia at a conservatively estimated cost of £1.7 billion a year. But, with the ageing population, the number of people with the condition is expected to double in the next 25 years, with overall costs to the UK economy set to rocket from £15.9 billion in 2009 to £34.8 billion by 2026, illustrating the scale of the problem.

Time to act
“Given the challenging times we all face in the next few years in terms of public spending, it is crucial that we tackle this agenda strategically now, if we are to begin to fundamentally reshape the model of dementia care, especially as we expect the number of people with dementia to double over the next 25 years, with all that entails in terms of demand for and pressure on services”, stressed Shona Robison, Minister for Public Health and Sport.

Alzheimer Scotland has welcomed the launch of the strategy, hailing the move as “a significant step forward in tackling many of the difficulties experienced by people with dementia and their families”. However, the charity’s chief executive Henry Simmons also said “it is unfortunate that it is only now, in such an uncertain economic climate, that dementia is receiving the necessary level of government priority”.