Lunchtime Live’s Ciara Kelly was joined at The National Ploughing Championships by CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Pat McLoughlin and Dementia Advisor Jean Scanlon.
September marks the 7th World Alzheimer’s Month, an internationally-recognised campaign to challenge the stigma surrounding dementia. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland works across the country in the heart of local communities providing dementia specific services and supports, advocating for the rights and needs of all people living with dementia and their carers.
Dementia is a term used to describe a range of conditions which cause damage to our brain. This damage affects memory, thinking, language and our ability to perform everyday tasks. One of the most common and well-known causes of dementia is Alzheimer's disease.
In Ireland alone, there are currently 55,000 people living with dementia – 19,800 men and 36,350 women. Every year, approximately 4,000 new cases of the disease are identified in Ireland.
Dementia doesn’t exclusively affect the elderly, there are 4,000 cases of younger onset dementia known in Ireland, meaning the people impacted are under the age of 65.
Speaking about how dementia can impact your family, Ciara spoke of how her own mother had dementia for a number of years before she passed away.
“I often describe my own mum’s last few years as the long goodbye because it was like watching someone you love slip away from you little by little and it is extraordinarily difficult.”
For every case of dementia diagnosed, it is estimated that there are at least three family members directly affected. Ireland has approximately 50,000 people acting as family carers for someone with dementia at the moment.
There are two journeys when it comes to dementia - for the person who has been diagnosed and for their family members and friends.
Speaking about what you can do at the beginning of that journey, Dementia Advisor Jean Scanlon says people should remain open-minded and discuss their concerns with their family members.
“There are also a number of tests that can be done by your GP, which can alleviate concerns or show if it needs to be investigated further. For a lot of people, stress or depression can also affect memory,” Ms Scanlon added.
Of course, it’s common for people not to mention their concerns to anyone in the beginning but it’s important to remember that dementia affects different people in different ways.
“People can become very good at covering up, they find ways of managing the areas where they do need to remember things by keeping notes or using generic answers.
What we’re trying to do is raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding dementia because people with dementia can live fulfilled lives – especially in the early stages with the right supports. People need to be informed and empowered to take control of their diagnosis and move forward.”
Dementia Advisors will regularly meet with family members whose loved ones have been diagnosed with dementia. Advisors work to give the family time to talk through their feelings and experiences and speak with them about how to deal with what they are going through and how best to communicate with their loved one.
“Often, family members just need validation to know they are doing the right things. Each family is different and every person is an individual so the approach will be different for everyone,” Ms. Scanlon said.
The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland offers a number of support services across Ireland but CEO Pat McLoughlin says that more needs to be done to give people a clear path of where to turn:
“We mapped the services with the HSE and it does show a very patchy service around the country. We have 19 branches but there are counties where we don’t have any.
So we’re advocating that the government should have a specific budget dedicated to dementia...”
The Alzheimer’s Society wants to work on establishing a minimum level of access in every county so at the very least, it will be possible to say that everyone - whether they are in the west or east or everywhere in between - will have access to support.
Increase in diagnoses
It’s estimated that the number of people living with dementia in Ireland will rise to 153,157 by 2046 due to our ageing population. Today, 11 people in Ireland will be diagnosed with some form of dementia.
If you’d like to learn more about the support services offered by the Alzheimers Society of Ireland, visit: www.alzheimer.ie.
You can also contact the national helpline on 1800341341 (open Monday - Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday 10am to 4pm).