Comment: Is the G8 Dementia Summit about scaling new heights or making base camp?

This time next week they will be laying the tables and giving the carpet at Lancaster House in London one last hoover. All in preparation for the G8 Dementia Summit on 10/11th December 2013.

I expect the current stream of articles and stories about dementia will become a veritable flood ahead of the big day.

Alzheimer’s Society ambassador and patient, Terry Patchett, has already written in The Sunday Times about his disappointment at the lack of progress with the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge. Blogger @legalaware who I much admire has commented on the corporatisation of dementia.

And well he might. Dementia is now big business. You don’t have to search too long to find city analysts estimating its size and value as a market. I wonder also how many of you saw the adverts for the ‘Alzheimer’s Show’ in London, and pondered, as I did, that there was just a hint that the disease was being made to sound like a lifestyle choice.

But I nearly choked on my Shreddies at the weekend as I read Jeremy Hunt’s thoughts in the Daily Telegraph. For I never thought I’d hear a sitting Secretary of State for Health reflect on the postcode lottery in dementia diagnosis with words we would normally associate with patient groups and campaigners. It’s enough to make one lose your bearings.

[As an aside the map doesn’t tell us anything new I am afraid. Other than that we wouldn’t be here if successive Governments hadn’t neglected dementia as an issue for 20 years. And we shouldn’t let them off the hook about the next 20 either. Only they can make a serious change to the cartography of this disease. Which is why the Dementia Challenge is so important.]

Now about this summit. Will it be a case of ‘so what’ or ‘slam dunk, job done?’ Expectations are certainly high.

Unfortunately, as an arena for great things, summits are not what they were. We grow up learning about the great summits of our time where conflict was settled and rights enshrined. But these days they are more about the careful choreography of different interests. Sometimes they lead to a merry dance. More often, success is defined by whether the participants walk out in step and to the same tune.

So I doubt very much that we will see our leaders emerging from the G8 Dementia Summit scaling new heights. But we may see them set out together from their newly pitched base camp. And that is good.

I suspect we will see some commitment to increased research funding even if the figures are non-specific. Also to greater international collaboration. But if I were at the table I would want three things to emerge from the final communique that is agreed at the end of the meeting:

Humanity: amidst all the talk of science and molecules a recognition that dementia is about people and relationships that are often under great stress and suffering great hardship. Recognition of the role carers play is a must.

Home: an acknowledgment that for many, no wonder drug or breakthrough will be found fast enough to alleviate symptoms or prevent deterioration. Millions of the world’s population will continue to care and be cared for at home, often in isolation. I hope leaders are not seduced too much by the petri dishes and slides of brains which will be rolled out. But recognise the predicament that people find themselves in because of a lack of care and support. We must see a greater priority given to research into quality of life issues.

Hope: I say that we are unlikely to see leaders scale heights. Yet that is no reason for those of us watching at home not to feel that a new ‘moonshot’ has begun. That this is just the opening chapter and that we all have something to contribute. We must see a commitment to return to the table time and time again in the same way that our world leaders do to consider matters of trade or economics.

If I wake up the day after and see the summit as clear as day then, in my view, it would have been worth it.

2 thoughts on “Comment: Is the G8 Dementia Summit about scaling new heights or making base camp?

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