This is an update on the Northern Dementia Initiative which we’re starting.

Most people don’t know what dementia is. Not really. They think it’s about old people forgetting stuff.

The term ‘dementia’ is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by specific diseases and conditions.

There are actually many types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

Dementia is a huge issue and there are many aspects of care and support that need addressing, from having more dementia friendly places to go, to integrating NHS and care assessments and services, to raising awareness of the issues, to knowing where to go for help, and helping sufferers and their carers to help each other.

One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia. At the moment about 670,000 people have it in the UK and that figure is expected to increase by 30% by 2021.

Across the North of England only 45% of dementia sufferers are given a diagnosis and it is believed that less than half of these receive an early diagnosis at which point treatment is most effective.

It is clear that sufferers benefit from earlier help and diagnosis – not least because each person can expect to spend 80 weeks less in a care home. This alone would result in a financial benefit to the public sector of approximately £46,000 per person and cut some of the £7 billion annual cost of dementia services across the North of England.

In September 2011 iNetwork was asked if we could do anything to help. One particular area where we felt there was an opportunity was diagnosis rates. Discussions with colleagues in councils, NHS services, fire and rescue services, police, Age UK and the Alzheimer’s Society helped shape the opportunity and highlight good practice that could be built on and out.

This week’s dementia referral roundtable in Manchester, attended by colleagues from a huge range of different organisations from across the North West, has sparked the next level of activity.

A project definition has been created and a short business case compiled. The essence of this is to improve referral and diagnosis through an innovative “share, blend, do” approach that builds on iNetwork’s usual knowledge brokering approach to support a multi-area rollout.

The aim is twofold: to improve the ability of local services including fire and rescue services to identity individuals and households that might need support, and to improve referrals back to the NHS and local care services where mental impairment is suspected.

We are seeking some funding to help make this happen and in parallel asking for commitments from sub-regions who are keen to work on this. This should be from across the whole of the North.

If you’d like to be involved with this work and can make a contribution please get in touch with me, Phil Swan, @theiNetwork or phil.swan@tameside.gov.uk.

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