'Dementia champions' start work across Scotland

Dementia usually affects older people

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A network of 100 "dementia champions" aiming to improve treatment for the condition has started work at hospitals across Scotland.

The group will help meet a target to give at least a year of personal support to anyone newly diagnosed with dementia, from 2013.

It is hoped to treble the number of champions by next year.

About 82,000 people in Scotland have dementia, with the number expected to double over the next 25 years.

The Conservatives said the strategy would fail to work unless the NHS worked with the private sector.

The first group of dementia champions was trained by the University of the West of Scotland and Alzheimer Scotland, while the next intake of 200, including social care workers, will begin their training shortly.

The commitment to ensure dementia sufferers get close support after they are diagnosed - described by ministers as the first policy of its kind in the world - forms a key part of the Scottish government's dementia strategy.

Agnes Houston, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago, welcomed the move, adding: "I am a nurse by profession, so I do have a strong personal interest in the dementia champions programme, and I see it as something that can really make a difference."

What is dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome associated with damage to the brain, which can affect people's memory, language and understanding.

The condition, which is reasonably common, usually affects people over the age of 65, and many sufferers rely on support from relatives and friends.

People with the condition can sometimes have trouble controlling their emotions or handling social situations and need help to make decisions.

There is currently no cure for dementia and related conditions like Alzheimer's disease and symptoms become worse over time, although there are treatments to help people better cope.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, said: "Providing the very best care for every older person on every occasion, in care homes and in hospitals continues to be a personal priority for me.

"The NHS and local authorities have to be well equipped to understand the care which people with dementia and their families are entitled to, in order to ensure that their dignity, independence and wishes are met."

Henry Simmons, chief executive of Alzheimer Scotland, said: "Scotland has had tremendous success in facing one of the key challenges of dementia: encouraging people to come forward and making sure that they receive a prompt diagnosis.

"The new national commitment to a guarantee of one year's post-diagnostic support for everyone receiving a diagnosis of dementia, as well as their partners and families, is a perfect way to build on this."

Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said dementia was one of the biggest challenges facing Scotland, adding: "With no prospect of clinical cure and with people surviving into much later old age, it will simply not be possible for the NHS to cope.

"Instead of this being an experience of other people's families, it will become one every family will face - that is why simply adhering to the current statistical model for the NHS will fail.

"We need to be far more willing to change and encourage working in partnership with a thriving independent sector."

The new support target is currently being piloted in four areas, while all of Scotland's health boards are in the process of taking on specialist dementia nurses.

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