THOUSANDS of dementia sufferers in north-east Essex have not had their condition diagnosed – denying them crucial treatment and support.

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Figures from the Alzheimer’s Society estimate only 32.2% of sufferers in the North East Essex Primary Care Trust area are currently being identified – putting it among the lowest five areas in England for diagnosis rates.

The charity believes there are more than 5,500 people living with dementia in the area, and that the figure is set to rise to more than 7,000 by 2021.

A spokesman said: “Getting a diagnosis gives people access to support as well as drug treatments that have the potential to slow down the progression of the condition.

“A diagnosis opens the door to support groups and information which can make a radical difference to people’s lives and enables people to access benefits, as well as plan for the future.” She said the society was backing a number of initiatives to help improve diagnosis rates. These include support for a Dementia Diagnosis resource pack, which identifies ten key steps to improve diagnosis, and is due to be issued by the Department of Health soon.

She added: “We know the NHS has made a commitment to improving diagnosis rates, but more needs to be done to ensure people who are living with dementia get a diagnosis.

“People need to proactive in seeking help if they’re worried about their own or a loved one’s memory. But the Government needs to ensure that doctors are confident and willing to diagnose dementia and that the right support services are in place for people once they are given a formal diagnosis.”

Cabinet member for Adult Social Care at Essex County Council, John Aldridge, said part of the problem was down to a “reluctance” to seek medical advice.

He said: “There is a reluctance among sufferers and people who care for them to get dementia confirmed. We used to have a similar taboo with cancer but that is now out in the open. We need to do the same with dementia.

“We need to put into the system a better mechanism for detecting the symptoms and then slowing it down.

“We also want people who might be suffering with dementia or carers who are looking after them to be more aware and to understand the issues, and what can be done to maintain quality of life.”

Mr Aldridge was speaking following the launch of series of Dementia Roadshows in Chelmsford yesterday, designed to promote activities people can adopt which research has shown may delay the onset of dementia.

The roadshows will be manned by staff from Essex County Council the North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and be taking place in shopping centres across the county over the coming fortnight. The roadshow is due to appear at George Yard in Braintree on February 27, Lions Walk in Colchester on March 6 and Tesco in Clacton on March 15.

The activities being promoted include brain training, such as suduko and crosswords, and group learning activities like singing.

Mr Aldridge added: “People don’t fully appreciate how lifestyle can play a part in exacerbating dementia. We need people to get involved in the kind of activities we are recommending.

“Much of the dementia issue is tied up with the issue of loneliness. We need to encourage hard-to-reach people into the community, so they aren’t left to sit in alone.”

MP for Colchester, Sir Bob Russell called the Alzheimer Society’s figures “a wake-up call” and said they reflected a need for society to deal with the problems of an ageing population.

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