The challenge of tackling dementia in rural communities is to be investigated by a specialist task force commissioned by David Cameron.
The Prime Minister has made plain his determination to tackle the disease and yesterday hosted a G8 dementia summit in London.
Mr Cameron wants UK government investment in dementia research to double from £66 million in 2015 to £122 million in 2025 – with similar increases from the commercial and charitable sectors.
He also stressed the importance of achieving scientific breakthroughs in order to slow down, or even prevent, the onset of the debilitating brain condition now believed to afflict 36 million people around the world.
His new task force, led by Ian Sherriff, academic partnerships lead for dementia at Plymouth University, is to explore how people with dementia, their carers and families can be better supported in their own communities. It will also examine how businesses and public bodies can improve their dementia strategies.
The group includes representatives from the House of Commons and House of Lords, the NHS, the Church of England and the Women's Institute, as well as farming, business and charity leaders.
Mr Sherriff, recently re-elected as a national board member of the Alzheimer's Society and one of the Prime Minister's national dementia champions, said: "People with dementia and their carers can often feel lonely and isolated and this can be further exacerbated by the nature of rural life.
"In towns and cities, there are often a range of easy to access services available that might not exist in the countryside, despite people desperately needing them.
"There is widely recognised work already taking place in the South West to address this, but we need to translate our experience and success on a national scale." It is estimated there are around 800,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK, costing society more than £23 billion per year, twice the cost of cancer. The total is predicted to reach one million by 2021.
The task force will initially examine the impact of a pioneering partnership in Devon – Dementia Friendly Parishes around the Yealm – which was established in 2012. It has been recognised nationally for its work to stage activities, promote social inclusion, raise awareness and provide community access.
The group will also gather information from people with dementia and their carers which will be passed directly to public and community organisations to implement dementia friendly practices.
The Rural Dementia Task Force, who met for the first time last week, is one of several established by Mr Cameron as part of his quest to make the UK a world leader in dementia care and research.