Collaborating to prevent dementia and advance care for people affected by dementia

by James Dixon

It is World Alzheimer’s Day today and with it comes the rather worn question: are we any closer to preventing or curing dementia? Along with the personal struggle that dementia can bring to any family, it’s a worsening issue as the UK’s population ages and places further strain on a brittle social care system. Newspaper headlines about the next miracle prevention for dementia, whether blueberries or black coffee, are often overblown but behind these stories lie pieces of research taking place across the country and the rest of the world.

Jo Baxter, Policy Officer at Alzheimer’s Society said “Dementia is one of the biggest health and social care challenges facing our society today. The number of people with dementia is set to reach 1 million by 2021 and the cost of dementia to the UK is £26.3 billion a year. Dementia is also the only leading cause of death that we can’t cure, prevent or even slow down. Yet many people with dementia and their carers are left with inadequate care and support to manage this complex and devastating condition. Funding for dementia research has long lagged behind research funding for other conditions and there is an urgent need for more research to understand how best to support people with dementia and their carers, so they can receive the care and support that they deserve.”

ESRC is one organisation funding dementia research into support for those currently living with the condition and their carers, as well as the long-sought goal of prevention. This year, ESRC announced a funding call with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for researchers to investigate social science research in dementia that makes a significant impact in scientific, economic or social fields.

old couple in park MF

£17.5 million has been made available for research to inform health and social care practice and policy relevant to dementia and advance methodology and social science theory in dementia research. This will fund grants of between £2 million and £5 million over three to five years. They will involve people affected by dementia and make an impact in terms of policy use and practice. The grants will start in January 2019.

This new push to try and understand more about the many diseases that fall under the dementia umbrella comes in the wake of previous research as ESRC and NIHR collaborated on a £20 million research initiative in 2012 to build social science capacity in dementia research.

Joanne Goddard, Senior Research Portfolio Manager at ESRC said: “The ESRC/NIHR dementia research initiative has led to a step change in social science funding of dementia, moving from small piecemeal projects to larger centres of expertise building critical mass. Findings emerging from the first ESRC/NIHR initiative include refined quality of life and outcome measures, and new knowledge around involving people affected by dementia in research. The initiative has also led to strong capacity building for early career researchers, strengthening social science capability for future dementia research, and we are pleased to be working with the NIHR again to fund more social science dementia research projects in 2019.”

While no one will defeat dementia alone, it is with collaborative work that when World Alzheimer’s Day rolls around in 2019, and the years to follow, we will be able to say we have a better understanding of dementia, chartered new ground in the prevention of these terrible diseases and assisted those currently living with the condition.

Follow the progress of the exciting new ESRC-NIHR dementia initiative on the ESRC website. For further information about ESRC-funded dementia research, email

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For dementia support, get in touch with Alzheimer’s Society or call their national helpline: 0300 222 1122.

james dixon 150James Dixon is Media Manager at the Economic and Social Research Council, a part of UK Research and Innovation, and has had personal experience of dementia. His role involves raising awareness about ESRC-funded research and the impact of social science on the UK and more broadly. He can be found on Twitter at @JamesDixonMedia

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