Thousands of people living with dementia are being helped to lead more independent lives, thanks to an initiative being supported by the Chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA).
Over 800,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia and one in three people live with the condition in old age. This is set to rise to around one million by 2021. It currently costs the UK around £23 billion each year to care for people with dementia, some of whom could end up unnecessarily in nursing homes or hospitals, and with an ageing population, this is set to rise by a further £4 billion in 2018.
Yet, despite figures showing that dementia is one of the main causes of disability later in life, official statistics recently showed that only 45 per cent of people have been properly diagnosed, making it vital that community leaders take action to tackle the issue and support people showing the signs of dementia as early as possible.
Today, Sir Merrick Cockell, Chairman of the LGA, is writing to around 400 council leaders across England and Wales to ask them to join his own personal commitment to become a Dementia Friend. Dementia Friends pledge support to those living with dementia by raising awareness or offering practical help.
Sir Merrick is leading the effort through his role at the LGA to encourage as many council leaders, staff and communities across the country to support the Government's drive to recruit one million Dementia Friends across the country. In 2012, around 12,000 people had registered with the Alzheimer's Society to become Dementia Friends.
Many councils are already working in partnership with their local communities to develop innovative ways to enable people with dementia to learn new skills and hobbies, take part in everyday activities and retain their independence for as long as they are able. Examples include art clubs, music and dance sessions for people with dementia, through to dementia-friendly streets, where as a result of simple adaptations and awareness raising among staff working in shops, people with dementia are able to do their own shopping.
Simple changes to existing services, and training for those who come into day-to-day contact with people with dementia such as staff working in libraries or in leisure centres, could help people with dementia feel more confident in using council services.
This is why Sir Merrick is now calling on council colleagues from England and Wales alongside their communities to join him by:
Making their own personal commitment to this issue;
Designating a person within the council to become a dementia friends champion, to then cascade learning to other staff in the council; and
Identifying a space at council premises to hold training sessions for staff and the community to become dementia friends.
Sir Merrick Cockell said:
"With so many people in our families and in our communities affected by dementia, this is a cause that is extremely close to many of our hearts and has touched many of us personally.
"When we think of our own parents, grandparents, partners and even children, none of us know who this will affect and what support we may need in the future that could make the difference to someone we love.
"I would like as many people as possible to join me in becoming a Dementia Friend. The more people we can get involved, the greater chance we have of enabling those living with dementia to lead fulfilling lives close to families, friends and neighbours for as long as possible.
"Traditionally, the focus for dementia care has been NHS treatments and services delivered by local councils. We need to shift this to a focus on how we can enable people who have been diagnosed with dementia to live as full a life as possible and encourage communities to work together to help people to stay healthier for longer.
"I have seen first-hand the difference the work of councils, community groups and volunteers has made to the lives of people living with dementia. This campaign really drives home the importance of how, when working together we really can make the biggest difference.
"Councils have a core role to play in transforming the quality of life for people with dementia. Not only in providing leadership and support for local community groups to develop innovative services, but in supporting their staff in becoming dementia aware and to sign up to their local dementia alliances to become involved in their dementia friendly communities."