On World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September) we're warning that many older dementia patients are missing out on vital talking therapies, which could significantly improve their lives.
Alzheimer’s UK has estimated that 209,600 people will develop dementia this year, that’s one person every three minutes.
Depression not treated
We are highlighting that in the early stages of dementia, depression and dementia are difficult to distinguish which often leads to depression being missed and not treated.
BACP also believes the situation is exacerbated by the stigma around dementia and depression for older people, which is preventing them from accessing services.
Low uptake of talking therapy
Data from the NHS Talking Therapies (Formerly Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, IAPT) programme in England consistently shows that, despite better than average recovery rates for those who receive therapy, uptake of the service is low among older people.1
Jeremy Bacon, our Third Sector Lead, said:
“In the early stages of dementia, it’s often assumed that all the changes we see in patients are all related to dementia, when in fact they can be symptoms of depression – which are treatable, reversible, and not part of dementia’s neurological condition.
Stigma and stereotypes
“Living with dementia commonly gives rise to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loss as people struggle to adjust to changes in their cognition, behaviour, and personality. The difficulty in diagnosis is enhanced by the negative stereotypes associated with age and dementia.
“Stigma and stereotyping of dementia can prevent people from acknowledging symptoms and obtaining the help they need, such as talking therapies. We need to normalise talking therapies, like counselling, to help people realise the profound and positive impact it can have on their lives.”
One recent study by University College London that examined data from the NHS Talking Therapies service for people with dementia - who also had clinically significant anxiety or depression2 - found that 63% of patients saw a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, and around 40% recovered completely, after completing a course of talking therapies.
“Mental ill health is one of the greatest health challenges of this decade for all age groups, but particularly for the older generations,” added Jeremy.
“In the UK, approximately a quarter of older adults are affected by depression3 and this figure rises to 40% of those living in care homes. It’s also estimated that 69% of care home residents have dementia.4”
Dementia and depression
Studies have shown that prevalence of depression for people with vascular dementia may be as high as 30%, rising to over 40% if the patient has other health conditions in addition to dementia.5
It’s common for people with dementia to experience loss of contact with friends as they reduce their social interactions, sexual relationships, and stop many of the social activities they previously enjoyed. This makes the person with dementia at increased risk of loneliness and social isolation – which impacts on the mental and physical health of older people.6
Research and data analysis also indicate that, despite significant prevalence of depression among people aged 65 and over, they are less likely to recognise symptoms of common mental health problems, and those that do are less likely to seek help from family, friends or a healthcare professional.7
1 NHS Digital: Psychological Therapies, Annual report on the use of IAPT services, 2021-2
2 Bell et al (2022) Effectiveness of primary care psychological therapy services for the treatment of depression and anxiety in people living with dementia: Evidence from national healthcare records in England. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2022.101692
3 Age UK (2016) Hidden in Plain Sight – The unmet mental health needs of older people.
4 Alzheimer’s Society (2015) Dementia UK Update
5 Reijnders JS, Ehrt U, Weber WE, Aarsland D, Leentjens AF. A systematic review of prevalence studies of depression in Parkinson’s disease. Mov Disord 2008;23:183-9.
6 Luanaigh and Lawlor (2008) Loneliness and the health of older people
7 Age UK (2016) Hidden in Plain Sight
Influencing decision makers
We work with with politicians and decision makers from all four nations to help them understand the positive changes that counselling can make to people's lives.
Our member Danuta Lipinska discusses dementia and explains how counselling can help both people who have been diagnosed and their family and friends.
New film shows value of counselling people with dementia
Counselling should be available for people living with dementia and their carers