It was the end of the week that I resigned as Prime Minister. I was in my constituency, visiting a care home. A woman with dementia, who was surrounded by her loving family, grabbed my hand and stared into my eyes. As I looked back at her I could see she didn’t know either where she was, or who was sitting with her.
That moment brought home to me, once again, the desperate sadness of this debilitating condition. And while I didn’t know then what role I could play outside No 10 to help with the fight, I knew it was something that I wanted to do.
Dementia steals people’s lives, turns their relationships upside down, destroys their hopes and dreams. We owe it to them, their families and their carers to find a solution.
That is why I launched the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge in 2012. And that is why today I am joining Alzheimer’s Research UK as the charity’s president, so that I can continue this important work.
This ambitious charity is driving medical research to fight dementia. It is uniquely placed at the intersection between the first-class academic research that is being driven by our great universities, and our cutting-edge pharmaceutical industry.
It’s a model that offers the best hope for turning a scientific idea into a life-changing treatment.
I believe there are four great battles we need to win. The first is the battle to win a deeper public understanding. Over recent years, we have seen a gradual shift in society’s attitudes towards dementia: once hidden in the shadows, today it is talked about in public more than ever before.
But a deeper understanding is still needed, with too many of us writing off dementia as an inevitability of later life, rather than being caused by diseases of the brain that we can overcome with the right medical research. Just as we did in the past with cancer and HIV, today we need to educate, inform and talk even more frankly about dementia.
Second, we must win the battle of priorities. Cancer research and stroke research deserve all their funding — but dementia shouldn’t be so far behind. After all, dementia remains one of our greatest health challenges, which leads to the third battle: winning continued support for scientific research that must be properly funded and promoted. Britain is in a great place to do this. Today, more scientists are working on dementia and there has been a renewed determination to catalyse world-class research.
And this leads to the final battle: ensuring we work internationally to demonstrate that this is a global challenge that we will only beat by working together.
Yes, our university and science base are world class, but if we are to confront dementia once and for all, we all need to pull together on a global basis. Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the way, working with institutions across the world on preventing and delaying Alzheimer’s and improving the quality of life for those affected.
When I launched the Dementia Challenge, I said combatting the condition was a personal priority. I feel that more today than ever before, not least because dementia, both as a medical challenge and a societal issue, can still feel like it’s a generation behind cancer or heart disease.
We can take optimism from the ideas, drive and innovation in dementia research. And we can be confident that we can emulate the successes of other areas of health research to avoid the heartbreak of dementia for the next generation. It’s a goal I look forward to championing in the years ahead.