THOUSANDS of retired people across Dorset could be living with dementia - yet they are not officially aware of it, new figures show.

Figures released by NHS Digital have estimated there could be 3,533 people over the age of 65 who are living with the condition but haven’t been officially diagnosed - 73 per cent higher than official records show.

The figures collated were based on the age profile and gender of patients.

Currently, GP figures show there are already 4,822 people over 65 who have been diagnosed with some form of dementia in the Dorset authority area alone.

The news comes a day after it was revealed that the number of people diagnosed with dementia in Highcliffe has rocketed by more than a third in the past year.

Over the last twelve months the diagnosis of dementia by Highcliffe Medical Centre rose by 36 per cent, with the number of care plans being put in place for patients nearly doubling from 129 to 236.

The majority of patients newly diagnosed in Highcliffe in 2017 were aged between 80 and 89, whilst 35 per cent were aged over 90. The diagnoses came about after the medical centre worked with its Patient Participation Group (PPG) to implement iSPACE, an initiative which aims to make primary care more dementia friendly, to achieve Dementia Friendly status.

Rebecca Loveys from Highcliffe Medical Centre said: “With the most elderly patient demographic of a GP surgery in the country, we are really enthusiastic about achieving Dementia Friendly status and see it as a milestone in our continued efforts to provide excellent care and support for those affected by dementia.”

The initiatives follow a national campaign brought set up by former prime minister David Cameron, called ‘Challenge on Dementia’, which aims for GP surgeries in England to increase the rate of diagnosis by at least two thirds of the estimated number of people with dementia.

Currently, Dorset is missing the target rate of 57.7 per cent in comparison with the national level where it stands at 68.3 per cent, with regions varying between 40 per cent and 90 per cent.

Professor Helen Stokes Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “There may be some situations where GPs might validly consider it in the best interest of the patient to delay seeking a formal diagnosis, especially in the early stages of the condition if there is minimal adverse effect on daily living and functioning and where patients do not want to be labelled.

“This decision might also be influenced by GPs' knowledge of the local availability of assessment and treatment services, which may be insufficient."

However, charity bosses have hit back.

Andrew Boaden, senior policy officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: "People with dementia have a right to know if they have the condition.

"A diagnosis helps people by allowing them to access emotional, practical, legal and financial advice, as well as any support and treatment available."