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When drivers at Mainline Sevens, a Salford taxi company, received pick-up requests from an elderly customer in the early hours of the morning, they suspected something was wrong.
“He lived alone and would call regularly asking to be taken to breakfast in the Co-operative café,” says Glennys Glover, the managing director. “We would take him every morning, then suddenly he was calling at 1am, 2am . . .
“We told him to go back to sleep, that we would be there in the morning as usual, but he would become very upset.”
Ms Glover says she suspected he was showing signs of early-stage dementia – and she was right. “We got involved, because it was happening to our customers. We want them to feel secure.”
The taxi company signed up to Dementia Friendly Communities, a national scheme led by the Alzheimer’s Society, a charity. Thirty cab drivers were trained in how to recognise signs of the illness – confusion and panic attacks are common symptoms – and how to assist their passengers.
When David Cameron, the UK prime minister, launched the government’s Challenge on Dementia in 2012, a programme that aims to bring improvements in care and research by 2015, he asked businesses to sign up to DFC. Some 69 towns and villages are now members of the scheme.
And they are not only acting out of compassion. As the population ages, there is also a compelling business case.
People with dementia and their families often have considerable disposable income.
The so-called “dementia pound” in England was worth £11bn in 2014, equivalent to 1.8 per cent of household spending in England – and the figure is expected to more than double to £23bn by 2030, according to a report, The Economic Cost of Dementia to English Businesses, published in July by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR), a think-tank.
But that proportion is likely to rise significantly, because rates of dementia are expected to soar in coming decades. The average household affected by dementia will spend £16,800 this year. More than 657,000 people in England have the condition, 1.2 per cent of the population. If projections are correct, that figure will rise to more than 1m by 2030.
Worldwide, trends are similar. An estimated 35.6m people had dementia in 2010. This is expected to nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7m in 2030 and 115.4m by 2050, according to data by the World Health Organisation.
As people develop dementia, so they spend less, according to the CEBR. Nearly a quarter of people with dementia say they have given up shopping.
“Without action to make these potential customers feel comfortable, businesses may find their spending goes elsewhere,” the report says.
Some large retailers are catching on. Sainsbury’s, the Co-operative Group, the Post Office and Asda are among those involved in DFC.
“High street businesses need to change how they interact with their customer base,” says George McNamara, head of policy and public affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society.
“We want every business involved, because there are different challenges – in pubs, cinemas, museums, for example.”
Everyday banking is especially challenging, he says, with its paperwork and digital security demands. But changes such as replacing chip-and-pin cards – which require memory power – with old-style signature debit cards can mean these customers can bank independently for longer.
Lloyds Bank represents the banking industry on the Challenge on Dementia financial services “champion group”, a task force that produced a good-practice charter in 2013.
The cost to Lloyds is hard to quantify, says Graham Lindsay, group director for responsible business and community affairs, but the business case is clear: “We know that the over-55s hold much of the wealth,” he says.
But not all businesses are interested.
Professor Maggie Pearson, dean of the college of health and social care at Salford university, says local campaigners have found that some refuse to engage. “It’s foolish, because the dementia pound is very strong. They are worried [that customers with dementia] are going to flood through the door and they will have people they can’t cope with,” she says.
“A lot of people are frightened and they block it out,” says Ms Glover of Mainline Sevens. “But if we can’t help each other, it really is all over.”