Shock as 3,000 in Suffolk could be unaware they have dementia
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More than 3,000 people in Suffolk could have dementia but be totally unaware they are suffering with the condition, statistics have shown.
Estimates by Suffolk's clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) show that as of January 2020, as many as 9,697 people could have illnesses such as Alzheimer's.
However just 6,233 of those have a formal diagnosis - meaning as many of 3,464 could be suffering with potentially debilitating brain functioning and memory loss, yet be getting no help.
The government has set a target that two-thirds of those estimated with dementia are diagnosed, yet Suffolk's CCGs say the "current diagnosis rates are not quite where we want them to be".
As of January this year 61.3% of estimated dementia sufferers in West Suffolk had been diagnosed, compared with 66.1% in Ipswich and East Suffolk.
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In rural parts surrounding Bury St Edmunds, just 170 out of an estimated 468 dementia have been diagnosed.
Rob Chandler, who has just taken on an expanded role as lead commissioner for dementia across West Suffolk, North East Essex, and Ipswich and East Suffolk CCGs to tackle the problem, said the main barrier is sufferers and their relatives being aware they might have dementia in the first place.
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The slow, incremental nature of the illness and people sometimes living far away from loved ones mean it is sometimes difficult to spot - but the stigma surrounding it means many don't come forward, he said.
Mr Chandler - who helped to raise the dementia diagnosis rate in North East Essex from 53% of those estimated to have the condition to 66% in less than two years - believes making people more aware of the symptoms, as well as reducing the misconceptions about the illness, will improve the diagnosis rate.
He is helping to put in place a new "dementia action plan to focus in certain areas where we can really capture those that may have dementia but have not yet been identified".
Mr Chandler, who is keen to go beyond the two-thirds target, added: "One of the elements is that there's a stigma associated with dementia.
"I wouldn't say it's the health system not being efficient in identifying people. In the first instance, people have to come forward.
"It's about the awareness of everyone, whether it be children or grandchildren, being aware of strange goings on and having that conversation with a grandparent who has got signs of dementia."
He praised the move towards "dementia-friendly" communities, where people are given training in spotting potential signs of the illness.
But he also said: "The first thing is to give people the assurance that there's support out there if you're ever diagnosed.
"It's not a label that gets put on you. You can live well.
"Don't get me wrong, life expectancy is reduced. However that doesn't mean in that time - five, 10, 15 years - you can't live a meaningful life."
Those who think a friend or relative may have dementia should encourage them to see a GP.