The government is shifting its approach to tackling dementia up a gear with a new package of measures including a massive call to action to the nation, £9.6 million in funding for research into the disease, and extra support for GPs.

Prime Minister David Cameron has this morning launched a new scheme designed to "challenge the way the public thinks and acts on dementia", by enlisting one million 'Dementia friends' - members of the public who will be educated on the condition and better placed to offer crucial support to patients - by 2015.

Dementia friends will be coached in local sessions, church halls and work places on how to spot the early signs of the condition and understand the nature of the illness and its symptoms.

It is hoped that the move will not only speed up detection of the disease, but also help create a new army of helpers in all corners of society able to provide support to patients within the community or care setting.

The scheme is just one aspect of a multi-pronged package of measures designed to address the issue of dementia, which is considered to be one of the foremost healthcare challenges of our time, given that it could well cripple health services in the not-too-distant future as the prevalence of the disease snowballs. 

There are currently 670,000 people with dementia in England and this is set to double in the next 30 years, placing an unprecedented strain on health and social care services.

New funds for research

The government is also offering up £9.6 million for dementia research with the expansion of the UK Biobank, including 8,000 brain scans to help scientists investigate why some people are prone to developing the disease.

It also promised extra support to GPs to help them improve diagnosis of the disease and equip patients and carers to better manage the condition.

As such, there is also a new requirement on healthcare professionals to ask all patients aged 65-74 years about their memory as part of every standard health check.

Elsewhere, a £1-million prize fund has been set up to reward NHS organisations for coming up with "groundbreaking ways" to drastically reduce the number of people with dementia who are undiagnosed.

"We cannot underestimate the challenge we face in dealing with dementia in our country," Cameron said, noting: “There are already nearly 700,000 sufferers in England alone but less than half are diagnosed and general awareness about the condition is shockingly low".

Next week when the government will also publish its Mandate for the NHS, which will include commitments to boosting early diagnosis of dementia and ensuring a better understanding of the condition, it said.