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England’s top mental health nurse urges people to look out for dementia warning signs

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NHS staff diagnosed 463,797 people aged over 65 with dementia in November 2023, up more than 41,000 compared to the same period last year.

Dementia is an extremely deceptive disease that develops slowly and may go unnoticed in people, said NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch, while urging people to look out for the vital warning signs of this condition among family and friends over Christmas.

Common early symptoms of dementia may include emotional change, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word, being confused about time and place, the health service has cautioned.

An increasing number of people have been diagnosed with dementia in England since the start of the pandemic, following a drive by the NHS England to increase diagnosis rates.

In November 2023, NHS staff diagnosed 463,797 people aged over 65 with dementia, up more than 41,000 compared to the same period last year, according to the figures revealed by the health service.

To identify more people with dementia, the NHS launched 14 pilots across the country which involve health professionals going into care homes to assess older adults who may have missed checks during the pandemic.

The target is to complete diagnosis of 66.7 per cent of people over 65 for dementia by next year, and three regions in London, North West, and North East and Yorkshire have already achieved it.

The NHS has also launched a £5m project to introduce new blood tests that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

It will be easier to spot dementia warning signs when families and friends get together over the festive season, Murdoch said.

“There are lots of reasons why people might be forgetful or absent-minded at such a busy time of the year, but it could also be the sign that something can be wrong.

“Getting a diagnosis for dementia is the first step in supporting people with a wide range of NHS services able to help.

“Thanks to the efforts of NHS staff, tens of thousands more people are now getting a dementia diagnosis than this time last year which opens up doors to further support for patients and their families who experience this heart-breaking disease.

“If you have noticed that someone has symptoms, please encourage them to visit their GP for an assessment – the sooner someone is seen the quicker the NHS can help,” she added.

NHS data showed that around 944,000 individuals are currently living with dementia in the UK, and over 750,000 of these patients are from England.

“Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer,” said James White, Head of National Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, adding that it can often be mistaken for simply old age but “it’s not a natural part of ageing and it doesn’t just affect older people.”

Despite so many people living with dementia in the UK, there’s a lack of awareness of its symptoms, noted Dr Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy – Prevention, Early Detection and Diagnosis at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“For example, one in two people aren’t aware that memory loss as a sign of the condition, and there’s even lower awareness of other signs, such as problems in communicating, low mood and anxiety, and confusion,” she added.

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