The UK should help our allies in war-torn Ukraine with expertise in how to support vulnerable people living with dementia

It might seem odd – at first glance- for a UK Parliamentarian to be talking about dementia services in Ukraine. When we think of Ukraine we think of military support in the war against Putin’s illegal invasion, and how proud we should all be of the UK support for that just war. When we think of dementia services, we cannot help being aware of how much farther and faster we need to travel in our own country to better help those affected by dementia, and their families, to see more research conducted into causes and likely cures, and to raise awareness and turbo-charge early diagnosis.

However, I decided to raise this issue on behalf of a skilled and dedicated team of people rooted in my local community, who feel strongly that they would like to share their expertise in dementia with people in Ukraine. This impressive team includes academics from the university of Plymouth led by Ian Sherriff, the Academic Partnership Lead for Dementia at the University of Plymouth. Ian was part of the core team set up by Lord Cameron, when he was Prime Minister, to take forward the work of combating dementia in the United Kingdom under the coalition Government. Driven by compassion and concern, the team have put together a three-year project to improve services.

It is critical not to impose any perceived help from the outside, but to partner with appropriate people in Ukraine. There has been extensive consultation with health officials and Ministers in Ukraine, who are very keen for this project to take place. In particular, the UK team is guided at every stage by Nezabutni, a charitable foundation dedicated to supporting people with dementia and their relatives in Ukraine.

Dementia care in Ukraine before the war lacked strategy, trained professionals, infrastructure, and support for people with dementia and their carers. Russian attacks have targeted fundamental services, including power, water and hospitals, so the situation for many people with dementia in Ukraine is now dire. Many older people have refused to leave their homes; meanwhile many women have left with their families, leaving a lack of carers.

There is no available capacity for dementia sufferers within the Ukrainian healthcare system. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of dementia sufferers in Ukraine are impacted by the insecurity and the bombing to a greater extent than their non-afflicted peers. The urgent need now is to build systems and structures to support people living with dementia and their families in both urban and rural Ukraine.

My debate was an attempt to ask the FCDO for help to get the Plymouth-backed dementia project off the ground. I was pleased that the minister in his response has offered help from his officials. This will now be followed up.

I will let Natalia from Kyiv have the final word: “We live in the city centre. We didn’t hear the shelling of Kyiv on December 29, 2022, but it was very loud on January 2. My mum and I woke up from the explosion. She no longer understands what’s happening around her; she doesn’t react. Initially, during the full-scale war, she responded and was afraid, but then her condition deteriorated sharply, so now my mom lives in her own world. I can’t even get her to the corridor during an alarm, to a supposedly safer place. She doesn’t want to. I used to lead her out. I tried, but she would return and lie down on her bed.

I realise that it is important for me to stay calm during the shelling. If I get nervous, my mom senses it and gets anxious too. So, during alarms, I do nothing. I stay calm with her and pray.”

Sir Gary Streeter

Sir Gary Streeter is the Conservative MP for South West Devon, and was first elected in 1992