HUNDREDS of older people may be living with undiagnosed dementia in Reading, figures suggest.

The Alzheimer’s Society says that, while diagnosis rates for the condition have improved in recent years, the level of detection varies drastically across England – with the disease now thought to be the country's biggest killer.

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NHS Digital data shows that 1,278 people aged 65 or over in Reading had a recorded dementia diagnosis in September.

But estimates in the same data, based on the local population, suggest the real number could be 1,814, meaning around 536 pensioners may have dementia without it being recorded by their doctor.

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Office for National Statistics figures released earlier this year revealed that dementia and Alzheimer’s accounted for around one in eight deaths registered in England and Wales last year – the leading cause.

The NHS figures were collected in response to former prime minister David Cameron’s Challenge on Dementia 2020, which included a target for at least two-thirds of people with dementia to be diagnosed.

The numbers show that about 71% of expected dementia sufferers in Reading were diagnosed in September, above the target.

It was also a slight improvement on the previous September, when around 69% had a recorded diagnosis.

Across England, 462,000 older people had recorded dementia in September – around 69% of those estimated to have it.

But the detection rate varied dramatically throughout the country – Enfield in London had a recorded diagnosis rate of 93%, while in South Hams in Devon, it was just 43%.

Sally Copley, Alzheimer’s Society’s director of policy and campaigns, said the disparity was "worrying".

She said: “The number of people with dementia is set to double over the next two decades, and as data shows, it’s still the UK’s biggest killer.

“It has never been more urgent to ensure a proper system of social care is in place."

Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms such as loss of memory, behaviour changes and problems in reasoning.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but it can result from brain damage caused by a stroke or neurological conditions such as Parkinson's.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said early diagnosis of dementia was not always in the best interests of the patient.

But she said increased diagnosis in recent years showed GPs' recognition of how important it is to get patients the treatment they need.

She added: "Increases in diagnosis must be matched by capacity in the system – we need to see more specialist services in the community geared up to helping diagnose and support patients with dementia, such as memory clinics, but access is patchy across the country.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “More people are being diagnosed with dementia than ever before, and we are committed to improving this further with better access to care and support, increasing public awareness and putting millions of pounds of funding into dementia research.”