The challenge of tackling dementia in rural communities is to be investigated by a specialist task force commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron.
The new group is to explore how people with dementia, their carers and families can be better supported in their own communities.
Led by Ian Sherriff, academic partnerships lead for dementia at Plymouth University, 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 about ways to improve their quality of life. The evidence will be passed directly to public and community organisations so they can implement dementia friendly practices.
The Rural Dementia Task Force, who met for the first time this 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.
Launching his national dementia challenge last year, the Prime Minister said: “Dementia is simply a terrible disease, and it is a scandal that we as a country haven’t kept pace with it.
“The level of diagnosis, understanding and awareness of dementia is shockingly low. We’ve got to treat this like the national crisis it is. We need an all-out fight-back against this disease; one that cuts across society.”