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Cameron delivers dementia's biggest 'call to action'

One million members of the public will be coached on how to spot signs of dementia and provide support to those with the condition  under the government's new 'Dementia Friends' scheme.

In what's has been labelled the “biggest call to action on dementia”, local sessions in church halls and work places will educate people to become 'dementia friends'.

It is hoped that by 2015, there will be one million of these 'dementia friends', who will be able to use their knowledge to volunteer to support people with the condition in their community, wards and care homes.

Each 'friend' will be awarded a 'Forget-me-Not' badge once they have completed their training, so they can be identified as being able to assist people with dementia.

There are currently 670,000 people with dementia in England and this is set to double in the next 30 years.  

Alongside the scheme, all healthcare professionals will now be required to ask all patients aged between 65 and 74 about their memory as a standard health check.

GP surgeries will also be equipped with a toolkit to aid the diagnosis of dementia.

"We cannot underestimate the challenge we face in dealing with dementia in our country,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

“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.

“Through the Dementia Friends project we will for the first time make sure a million people know how to spot those tell-tale signs and provide support.

“There is still a long way to go in fighting the disease but together we can improve the lives of millions."

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, said the project is the government's “most ambitious” answer to the dementia problem to date.

“Day to day tasks such as going to the shop or catching a bus can become increasingly difficult for people with dementia,” he said.

“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.”

However, Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, accused the government of not going far enough and said the project must go “hand-in-hand” with “proper investment”.

“Dementia is a complex condition and any emphasis to improve awareness should be welcomed,” he said.

"However, awareness itself is not enough. We want to see a guarantee from the Government that it will invest and make a priority those services that have the capacity and expertise to support people living with dementia and their families.

"These volunteers will undoubtedly be a boost to those providing care. That being said, it must go hand in hand with proper investment, especially when those with the expertise to treat dementia, such as nurses, are being cut. This should not be an either-or scenario.”