8 Nov 2012

A million ‘dementia friends’ to be trained, says Cameron

As a new scheme is launched to train one million people as “dementia friends” to spot the signs of the condition, Oliver James tells Channel 4 News the method of support is crucial.

Government plans to train a million 'dementia friends' (G)

David Cameron who says that tackling dementia is a “personal priority” of his, hopes that one million people will sign up to receive coaching sessions by 2015.

Almost 700,000 people in England are affected by dementia and the figure is expected to double in the next 30 years.

The government’s Dementia Friends Scheme, will provide training sessions in church halls and workplaces aimed at raising awareness and teaching people how to support those with the condition.

“We cannot underestimate the challenge we face in dealing with dementia in our country,” he said. “There are already nearly 700,000 sufferers in England alone but less than half are diagnosed and general awareness about the condition is shockingly low.

“Last March I made clear that I wanted to do something about that and we are now going further and faster to help people and their carers, and to support the research needed to prevent and treat the condition.”

Making the past, present

The government will be giving almost £10m for dementia research and £50m to make wards and care homes more comfortable for people with dementia. Mr Cameron also announced other initiatives to boost early diagnosis and help the public to better understand the condition.

Psychologist Oliver James, author of Contented Dementia, previously recommended that the government raise awareness of the signs of dementia, and welcomes the proposal to train one million people to spot and support those with dementia. However he said that the way people are trained to deal with people suffering from dementia is crucial.

“It is very harmful to contradict people with dementia when they are talking as if they were still living in the past,” he told Channel 4 News. “The initiative would be very welcome if all the one million Dementia Friends were made aware of the basic precepts of SPECAL care for persons with post early stage dementia, which proposes making a present of that past. This is what the person with dementia is doing anyway.”

£23bn annual cost

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted England to lead to lead the way in care for people dementia care across Europe. “Too many people with dementia feel cut off, lonely and fearful without the support and understanding they need,” he said.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said that dementia costs £23bn a year to the UK economy and is a condition that can’t be ignored.

There are already nearly 700,000 sufferers in England alone but less than half are diagnosed and general awareness about the condition is shockingly low. David Cameron

“Finding treatments for alzheimer’s and other dementias is no easy task, but it’s one we must tackle if we are to make a real difference to people’s lives,” he said.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Day to day tasks such as going to the shop or catching a bus can become increasingly difficult for people with dementia.

“Without a helping hand, this can mean people are left feeling isolated, unable to be part of their community and in some cases even unable to continue living at home.

“Dementia Friends is our latest and most ambitious answer to how we can change this picture. We want to rally a million people behind the cause of helping make a better life for people with dementia. I am confident we will not only meet this target but beat it. Dementia is everyone’s problem and we all need to be part of the solution.”


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