IT is one of the biggest issues facing Britain today.

The country’s ageing population means the number of people suffering from dementia is expected to rise from 800,000 to one million by 2021.

But civic chiefs and charity bosses in Hampshire are determined to help tackle the problem by creating “dementia friendly” shopping centres across the county.

Traders joining the scheme train their staff on how to spot signs of dementia and provide sufferers with an enhanced level of customer care.

They also display special stickers in their window in a move that aims to give people with dementia the confidence to enter the store.

Fareham High Street was declared dementia-friendly at the end of last year. Now Lyndhurst’s main shopping centre has achieved a similar accolade and other towns in the New Forest are set to follow suit.

The project has been devised by Hampshire County Council and Andover Mind, which want to help dementia sufferers lead near normal lives for as long as possible.

The Lyndhurst scheme was launched by Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East.

He said: “People with dementia should not feel isolated. They’re still the same person, even if their ability to recall facts and conversations isn’t what it used to be.”

Jan Brooke, the new chairman of Lyndhurst Chamber of Trade, added: “A lot more understanding will help a lot of people.”

The number of dementia sufferers in Hampshire is expected to jump from 18,500 to 24,000 by 2020 – a rise of 30 per cent.

The percentage increase in the New Forest is likely to be even greater, thanks to the exceptionally large number of pensioners living in the popular retirement area.

Di Brooks, the district council’s Cabinet member for health and leisure, joined Dr Lewis at the launch.

She said; “The prevalence of dementia in the Forest is more than twice the national average so supporting initiatives that help improve the lives of people with dementia is a priority for the council.

“I am delighted to see local shops and businesses undertake to train their staff and would encourage others to get involved.”