The cost of dementia to the UK has now topped £26 billion a year, the majority of which is “unfairly” shouldered by patients, their carers and their families, says a new report for the Alzheimer’s Society.

The review of dementia in the country, by the London School of Economics and King's College London, has found that two-thirds of related costs are absorbed by patients and carers, including a £5.8 billion social care bill for help with everyday tasks such as washing and dressing. Also, the 1.3 billion hours of unpaid care that carers provide would cost the state a whopping £11.6 billion.

The cost of dementia diagnosis and treatment to the NHS is already at £4.3 billion, with local authorities picking up a further £4.5 billion, but this is set to continue climbing as the numbers affected by the condition soars. By 2015, 850,000 people will have dementia, by 2051, this figure is expected to overshoot two million.

In separate survey by the charity of 1,000 patients with the disease, 61% of patients said they had felt anxious or depressed recently, while 43% of those being cared for said their carers receive no help, further highlighting the need to address significant unmet need.

System ‘on its knees’

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, said the findings expose the “staggering financial and human impact” of the condition. 

“It is plain to see that our social care system is on its knees, leaving an army of tens of thousands of unpaid carers bearing the brunt,” he said, and argued that it is unfair that families are forced to “break the bank” to look after dementia patients while those suffering from other illnesses such cancer get their care for free.

“These spiralling costs cannot continue unchecked…we need radical solutions and serious funding commitments to put social care on a sustainable footing,” he stressed.

The charity said it is calling for a successor to the Prime Minister's Challenge on dementia, which is scheduled to end in just over six months, and that it should prioritise: a 66% dementia diagnosis rate across all areas; a 12-week limit on first GP visit to diagnosis; and access to a Dementia Adviser on diagnosis for all patients.

Meanwhile, the G7 Global Dementia Legacy Event is scheduled to take place tomorrow in Canada, at which experts will discuss progress on made since the G8 Summit on Dementia Research on the goal of finding a cure or disease modifying treatment by 2025. 

Benzodiazepines - AD link?

Elsewhere, new research has found that the use of benzodiazepines to treat insomnia or anxiety could boost the risk of developing Alzheimer's.

The study, published in BMJ online this week, found that the risk of AD jumped from 43% to 51% in older people who had used the drugs in the previous five years, and that the association seemed stronger when they were taken for longer periods of time.