Cork centre offers respite for carers and company for users

The best outcome for the social club is that people meet each other and offer each other peer support

Centre user Eileen Attridge with her daughter, Niamh Marie Gomez, and her sister, Nancy Attridge, at the Alzheimer Society of Ireland Bessboro daycare centre in Cork. Photograph: Provision

Centre user Eileen Attridge with her daughter, Niamh Marie Gomez, and her sister, Nancy Attridge, at the Alzheimer Society of Ireland Bessboro daycare centre in Cork. Photograph: Provision

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 15:36

In a bright airy room that opens out on to a sensory garden, a group of 29 people are singing along to Molly Malone and The Banks of the Lee with the entertainer and singer Jerry Tuohy. The group comprises people with dementia and their family carers, who are attending the monthly Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) social club at the Bessboro daycare centre in Cork.

The ASI runs 19 social clubs around the country to which people with dementia (the term for severe memory loss that includes Alzheimer’s disease) and their family members can drop in to chat, access information, meet other people, enjoy refreshments and whatever entertainment is laid on. It is respite for the carers and an important social outlet for the people they are looking after.

Karen Kellegher, one of the volunteers organising the social club, says: “We often have music at this social club. The service users love it. There’s a part of their brain that stores the lyrics of familiar songs and they really like to sing along.”

Sheila Flanagan, who is 86 and has Alzheimer’s disease, severe arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, attends the social club with her two daughters, Maria and Trish. “We try to come to the social club as much as possible because it’s great for Mum,” says Maria. “She loves music and meeting people.”

The two sisters gave up their jobs to look after their mother in her home. They divide the caring duties between them, staying with Sheila, one week on and one week off.

Trish, who worked as a journalist with the BBC in London, gave up work nearly two years ago to help her father look after her mother. Her father died last year. Maria, who has her own human-resources business and lives in Dublin, has put her work on hold. Neither has children. They don’t receive the carers’ allowance, as a means test found that they don’t qualify for it now.

“Obviously, we’d hope to return to work in due course,” says Trish. “The idea is that we’ll try to keep Mum at home for as long as possible. There will come a time when we won’t be in a position to look after her any more. Making decisions about that faces every person caring for their parents.”

The social club is a necessary outlet for the Flanagans. They receive just one hour of home help from the HSE every weekday, when Sheila is washed and dressed by a helper. Sheila attends the Bessboro daycare centre one day a week from 10am-3pm.

Trish says, “There’s a gap in what’s available for people with dementia. I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on keeping people with dementia in their own homes, which is where they’re most content. It’s very short-sighted of the State.” She says that if more support at home were available for families like hers, it would save the State a lot of money. Trish and Maria are critical of the lack of information available about services for people with dementia, saying they were left to their own devices to find out what could be accessed.

Rita O’Reilly is attending the Bessboro social club with her husband, Aidan, who is a client of ASI, for the first time. Last November, they moved from Dublin to Cork, as they have a son living there. Their daughters live abroad. They are in their 70s and found moving hard.

For Rita, respite “is very important. Aidan comes to the daycare centre here once a week. He also goes to two other daycare centres, in Blackrock and Carrigaline. It means I have lovely free days.”

Caroline Kilty, a nurse, is the activities co-ordinator at the Bessboro centre. “The social club has been running for three years and is perhaps more for the carers who need respite. It’s a nice introduction to the services we offer. The best outcome for the social club is that people meet other people in similar situations and offer each other peer support. It’s inclusive of both the individual with dementia, and the carer.”

See alzheimer.ie

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