Dementia: ethical issues


Published 01/10/2009

Dementia report cover
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What is dementia?

A person with dementia will usually experience a progressive decline in their mental abilities because of damage to the brain. This damage may have many causes, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.

The signs and symptoms of dementia include memory and communication problems, difficulties in daily living, changes in mood and behaviour, and the gradual loss of control of physical functions. However, we are beginning to understand how much people with dementia can still do and feel, despite the effects of their illness.

  • About 750,000 people in the UK currently have dementia
  • This is likely to increase to 1.7 million by 2051
  • Older people are more likely to develop dementia – one in five of us by the age of 85 (however, some younger people develop dementia too)
  • Dementia costs the UK over £17 billion a year

Even with the best support, a person with dementia will usually experience significant changes in their life as a result of their declining mental abilities. These may lead to ethical problems for the individual with dementia, for family and friends who provide unpaid care and support, for those providing paid care (care workers and professionals such as doctors), and for society as a whole.