Alzheimer's charity hails one million 'dementia friends'

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Media captionHow do 'dementia friends' work? The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson finds out

One million people have now signed up to be "dementia friends" in England, the Alzheimer's Society has announced.

People in all walks of life have been trained to spot the signs of the disease so they can help sufferers.

There are an estimated 720,000 people with dementia in England, although most have not been diagnosed. Prime Minister David Cameron called it "one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime".

Charities warned there was still an "enormous amount" to do to help carers.

'Real revolution'

The Dementia Friends plan was launched two years ago.

Since then, sessions have been taking place in business offices and town halls across the country to explain what dementia is, what it is like to have the condition and what people can do to help if they meet someone with the symptoms.

Emergency services and companies - including Marks & Spencer, Asda and Argos - have encouraged their staff to become dementia friends. Schools have also taken part.

The total number of friends was close to 899,000 at the beginning of this month, but has now reached the original target of one million.

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Image caption Loss of tissue in a demented brain compared with a healthy one

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, described the friends as a "real revolution".

He added: "We are beginning to change for the better the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

"In communities across the country, they are working to eradicate the isolation, fear and despair felt by so many affected by dementia."

'Leading the world'

The government has announced that it will be spending more than £300m to tackle dementia in England over the next parliament, as part of plans which include:

  • An ambition to reach three million dementia friends
  • A dedicated online and telephone service to help people taking part in dementia trials
  • An international dementia institute to be set up in England within five years to make the country a "world leader" on research
  • The launch of a global fund to find a drug that can slow the onset of dementia by 2025.

Mr Cameron said: "Dementia is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, and I am proud that we are leading the world in fighting it."

Signs of dementia

  • Struggling to remember recent events
  • Problems following conversations
  • Forgetting the names of friends or objects
  • Repeating yourself
  • Problems with thinking or reasoning
  • Confusion in familiar places

Prof Alistair Burns, the national clinical director for dementia at NHS England, said: "We are beginning to change the way society respects and treats people with dementia.

"We can change the lives of tens of thousands of people for the better if we can continue to raise awareness, invest in the search for new treatments, and most importantly improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers."

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A spokesman for the Carers Trust said the dementia friends initiative was a good thing, but that carers needed far more help.

"There is still an enormous amount to be done.

"Two-thirds of people with dementia are cared for at home by their family and friends enabling them to live at home and participate in community life.

"Carers of people with dementia face particular difficulties due to the complex, unpredictable and progressive nature of the illness, and often have poor health outcomes themselves.

"Carers need consistent information and support to enable them and the person they are caring for to remain active and well."

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