Anna Lo speech on her Dementia Research Assembly motion

Here are excerpts from South Belfast Alliance MLA Anna Lo’s speech on her Assembly motion today on the need for more funding to be devoted to research on dementia:

People with dementia have an increased risk of physical health problems and are increasingly dependent on health and social care services and other people such as friends, family and other support networks.

Dementia is a terminal disease; people with dementia can live for as many as 15 or 20 years from onset of the condition. The rate at which dementia progresses will depend on the individual, each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way.

Very few cases are diagnosed in the early stages; many of the associated symptoms can be attributed to other conditions therefore making diagnosis particularly difficult. Early diagnosis is important, it allows people with dementia and their carers to better plan the future and to start treatments which may slow the symptoms of the disease and to get information and support needed to live a full life.

The Dementia UK 2007 Report estimates there are currently more than 16,000 people with dementia in Northern Ireland. This is a conservative estimate as only 1 in 3 with dementia receives a formal diagnosis. The Centre of Aging Research and Development in Ireland believes that there may be 8,000 more people living with dementia in NI than official figures suggest.

Dementia UK report predicts that by 2017 the figure of people here living with dementia will be 20,500, that is a rise of 27% in 10 years, and by 2051 this figure will increase to over 47,000.

Of the 16,000 people currently living with dementia here, two of three people are women – a fact which is due in part to the longer life expectancy of women but also a higher age-specific dementia prevalence in women.

1 in 5 people over 80 and 1 in 20 people over 65 have a form of dementia. The proportion of people with dementia doubles for every 5 year age group. 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will die with dementia. Delaying the onset of dementia by 5 years would halve the number of deaths due to it. 1400 deaths per year in Northern Ireland are attributable to dementia.

Around two thirds of people with this condition live in the community, with the remaining one third living in residential care. Alongside Scotland, we have the highest proportion of people over 65 in care homes.

The Alzheimer’s Research Trust’s report Dementia 2010, published in February, highlights the economic cost of dementia and the need for better understanding of the condition. It estimates that 820,000 people live with dementia across the UK, around the same number as have cancer. It reckons that every person in the UK living with dementia costs the economy over 27 thousand pound per year, this is higher than the UK’s median salary.

Yet, in the UK only 2% of the medical research budget is spent on dementia compared with 33% on cancer.

If it is estimated that dementia costs the UK £23 billion a year, it is twice the amount that cancer costs the UK, three times what heart disease costs and four times what stroke costs. Why then is the dementia research budget so desperately underfunded?

Investing money now on research can save billions from our health budget on medical and care bills later and has the potential to alleviate considerable human suffering.

Research can help us to improve diagnosis, particularly at the earliest stages when treatment is most likely to be effective. It will also inform us of more accurate numbers of people who have the disease now and in the future to enable proper service planning.

It is vital that we provide the funding to attract young, gifted research scientists to the field of dementia and to support their sustained work in the field. The funding gap means that very few people can work in the field and for incremental advances in dementia research, equivalent to those in cancer, we need a thriving dementia research community in Northern Ireland, across the UK and in Europe.


Motion – That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Health, Social Service and Public Safety and the Executive to commit to ensuring that funding for dementia research is increased to reflect the scale and seriousness of the condition and the impact it has on the thousands of people living with dementia, their families and carers.

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