Your chances of getting medication to help alleviate dementia symptoms could depend on whether you live in a poor or affluent area.

New research carried out by University College London has found that there is a ‘postcode lottery’ for access to dementia medication within England, and that people with dementia who live in some of the poorest areas are less likely to be given drugs for their condition.

People with dementia in the more affluent areas – for example in London and the home counties – were found to be 27 per cent more likely to be prescribed anti-dementia drugs that those living in poorer areas, such as the North East of England.

‘It is unacceptable that such discrimination should exist in accessing healthcare,’ says George McNamara, Head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society. ‘This research shows that the poorest people in society are still missing out on vital anti-dementia treatments.

‘By 2021, there will be over one million people in the UK living with dementia - access to the medication they need should be the same, whether they are living in Kingston-upon-Thames or Kingston-upon-Hull.’

The research looked at over 77,000 medical records for people dementia living across the UK between 2002 and 2013. Interestingly, there was inequality between dementia medication prescriptions for people living in England, but less so in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Author of the UCL study, Dr Claudia Cooper from the Department of Psychiatry, commented: ‘When access to any treatment is rationed, wealthier patients and their families tend to be better-equipped to navigate the healthcare system and get around the restrictions.

‘They might do more research and know what to do to get the diagnosis and treatment that they want. They could also be more confident and assertive in asking doctors for specific treatments. Observational studies like this can increase our understanding of possible links between inequality and treatment outcomes, but they do not show direct cause and effect as we cannot rule out other explanations.’

Dr Cooper added: ‘Inequality in dementia drug prescriptions in the UK looks to be a uniquely English problem, which could be down to the differing health policies of the devolved nations.

‘We urgently need strategies to improve access to dementia treatments for people in more deprived areas in England. These should focus on offering drug treatments to people with treatable dementia types of any severity and ensuring that future prescribing policies do not introduce barriers to care that are less penetrable to people in poorer areas.’

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