THOUSANDS more people across Cumbria will be diagnosed with dementia over the next 15 years.

David Storm, dementia lead at the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, warned that it is becoming an increasing concern for the county.

“We are in the midst of increasing numbers. We reckon that in the next 15 years we will go from about 8,000 people in Cumbria at the moment to around about 13,500. That’s nearly double,” he said.

“At the moment we are seeing about a five per cent increase every year. when you add that up over a number of years it gets quite concerning in terms of numbers.”

Dr Storm issued the warning on the first day of Dementia Action Week - a national awareness event aiming to raise the profile of the illness, improve early diagnosis and tackle the stigma associated with it.

He said that in Cumbria the problem is magnified due to the county’s “super-ageing” population - meaning the proportion of elderly people is growing faster than other parts of the country.

Although most people associate dementia mainly with memory loss, it is actually an umbrella term for conditions which damage the brain by causing a loss of nerve cells. Alzheimer’s disease is one specific cause of dementia, and the most common, but there are also other types, such as vascular dementia.

It is also usually seen as something that affects people in old age, but Dr Storm said it is not an illness that only affects the elderly.

He explained that as people are living longer, it simply increases the likelihood of them developing it.

“It’s not an illness of old age. We have referrals from all age groups. The youngest I have seen is 34,” he said.

Despite dementia becoming an increasingly common condition, he said there is still a real fear surrounding it.

He hopes that Dementia Action Week can help to educate the wider public and let people know more about the support available.

“There is lots of stigma around it still. It is a terminal illness and nobody likes to talk about that,” he said. “It’s a bit like it was with cancer years ago. It was the big C. Now it is almost the big D with dementia.

“Unless we tackle that stigma, we are not going to get past that. People might feel embarrassed or ashamed and won’t come forward. That means they are missing out on early diagnosis.

“When they do come forward there is lots of help and support. There is a lot we can do.”

Dr Storm said there are treatments that can help slow the onset of dementia and improve quality of life - and the sooner someone is diagnosed the more effective that will be.

“Many people are now able to live a full life with dementia and we need to be able to celebrate that, not hide away from it. We are keen to start as many conversations as possible,” he added.

As part of Dementia Action Week, events are taking place across the county to raise awareness, ensure people are getting the help they need and to help to reduce stigma.

In Carlisle, staff from the Cumbria Partnership’s Memory and Later Life are teaming up with the Carlisle Dementia Action Alliance to host a pop up shop in The Lanes. Running from today until Saturday, specialist staff will be on hand between 10am and12pm and 1pm and 3pm for members of the public to drop in and talk about dementia.

The alliance - backed by the Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK (Carlisle & Eden) - has also organised a series of public Dementia Friends awareness sessions, while the local Singing for the Brain group will also be performing in the city centre.

Workington’s Amathea Care Home is also working to raise awareness with a series of public events, working with Alzheimer’s UK and the Workington Dementia Action Alliance.

The first takes place today, between 10am and 1pm, at Asda, Dunmail Park. There will be an advice point providing information about all aspects of living with dementia.

The second is on Wednesday, between 10am and noon, with a drop-in event for anyone who needs advice, support or information about living with dementia.

Home manager Tony Lyons said: “I hope we can provide practical support for the people, friends and families of those living with dementia, and it proves to be helpful.”