Is Dementia not as 'sexy' as other problems?

Today is the last day of Dementia Awareness week in the UK. Last Wednesday, I hosted a free Health 2.0 London event 'Can the tech community help to prevent the Dementia crisis?'. The event was promoted on social media, had passionate people giving illuminating talks, including 5 startups, and was sponsored by O2 Health and TelefonicaOver 40 people attended, but I was surprised that we didn't have more attendees. 

Sarah Reed gave a brilliant talk at Health 2.0 London on the challenges for patients (and their families and doctors) who live with Dementia.

Sarah Reed gave a brilliant talk at Health 2.0 London on the challenges for patients (and their families and doctors) who live with Dementia.

On Friday, I was at the USEFIL workshop on technology for independent living at the Institute of Digital Healthcare. A fascinating event (and free to attend), with some very interesting ideas on how technology could help Dementia patients (and their families). Again, I was surprised that the auditorium was not packed out.

Dr Tom Berber spoke on the accelerometery signatures of acute medical events when monitoring elderly patients

Dr Tom Berber spoke on the accelerometery signatures of acute medical events when monitoring elderly patients

Yesterday, I attended the first few hours of the NHS Hack Day. The energy was superb, and I listened to doctors, patients, developers 'pitching' their ideas. It was my first NHS Hack Day, and it was encouraging to see the creativity of the ideas. However, I don't recall anyone pitching an idea that was directly for Dementia patients, caregivers or their families. 

Amazing energy at NHS Hack Day

Amazing energy at NHS Hack Day

The scale of problem in the 21st century

A recent study showed that Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have risen from the 24th leading cause of death in the UK to the 10th in the last 20 years. More than half of the estimated 670,000 people living with condition in the UK have not been diagnosedAlmost half of UK adults would find it difficult to tell their own family if they thought they had dementia according to a poll.

Globally, the number of people living with Dementia is forecast to triple by 2050, from around 35 million today to over 115 million, and 70% will be living in low and middle income countries. In the USA, total payments for health care, long-term care and hospice for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias are projected to increase from $203 billion in 2013 to $1.2 trillion in 2050 (in current dollars). 

If nothing is done, Alzheimer’s will become the “financial sinkhole of the 21st century,” says gerontologist Ken Dychtwald

Surely, someone must be doing something?

Yes, we have the Cleverminds app for Alzheimer's that was recently funded on Kickstarter. Acuity Design have been using NFC technology to develop Tapcare solutions that could be used by Dementia patients. So, the Digital Health community are not ignoring Dementia completely. 

However, given the scale of the problem that we face in the UK and beyond, I'm curious to know why the Digital Health community is not doing more?

  1. Is it because Dementia is not as 'sexy' as other problems, like cancer and obesity?
  2. Is it because investors shy away from backing startups aimed at helping Dementia patients?
  3. It it because health care and social care are often not integrated at national level by policy makers?
  4. Is it because we are not talking enough about Dementia?

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

The future

It's brilliant to hear that a specific G8 Dementia summit will be held in London in just a few months time. I really hope that this gathering of world leaders will draw attention to one of the biggest challenges we face in the 21st century.

Just in the UK, it's estimated that over 600,000 unpaid carers are primary carers for Dementia patients, and two thirds of Dementia patients live at home. Despite the fact that currently we have no treatment for Dementia and no way to halt progression of the disease, I believe there is much more we could be doing with technology to help Dementia patients (and the relatives and friends who sacrifice so much to care for them). 

If you're in the Digital Health community, and want to make a REALLY BIG impact on the lives of people,  I have only one thing to say, "Wake Up - the world needs YOU!"