Major necessity for dementia ‘is human contact’

Daily interactions in the community can counteract much of the isolation associated with dementia

The Musical Memories choir in Stillorgan is designed for the wider community and dementia sufferers. Singing is one of the faculties that stays with people longest after they have been diagnosed with dementia. Video: Darragh Bambrick

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 08:37

When people develop dementia, they often withdraw from the community they have known all their lives for fear of getting lost, confused, not recognising neighbours or not finding the correct change for groceries. Yet these daily interactions can counteract the isolation associated with dementia.

The Dementia-Friendly Communities initiative aims to keep people with dementia living at home for as long as possible by providing all kinds of community and home-based supports to help them with their daily lives.

Four Irish towns have received funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the HSE to make their communities “dementia friendly”: across Co Mayo, Clonmel in Co Tipperary, Kinsale in Co Cork and Stillorgan/Blackrock in Co Dublin.

Eight other locations have received funding to develop personalised supports for people in the more advanced stages of dementia. These projects, which are co-ordinated by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, are across Donegal; Galway city; Ballina/Killaloe, Co Clare; Mallow, Co Cork; Callan, Co Kilkenny; Cavan town; across Co Wicklow; and Rathfarnham in Dublin.

Tina Leonard, head of advocacy and public affairs with ASI, says, “About 63 per cent of people with dementia live in the community and their dementia has an impact on at least three family members.

“It’s the responsibility of the community that these people can live well.”

Whether you are part of a church, school, or GAA club, or are a neighbour or a friend, you have a role to play, according to Leonard.

Dementia friendly

To make a community “dementia friendly”, everyone must be involved.

This includes people with dementia, their family members and doctors as well as representatives of local businesses, sports and voluntary organisations. And it takes quite a bit of work to set up these so-called consortiums to increase awareness of what people with dementia need, and to respond by developing supports in the community.

The ASI already runs social clubs, Alzheimer cafes, and training and home supports for carers in some parts of the country.

Eilis Hession, the manager of services for older people at the HSE in Dún Laoghaire, leads the Living Well with Dementia project in Stillorgan/Blackrock.

“It’s all about reconnecting people with their communities. People with dementia are still the same people with the same likes and interests that they always had,” says Hession. Finding someone to bring the person to bridge or golf can mean they continue to engage in the social activities they always enjoyed.

“We had someone who loved walking but was no longer able to go on long hikes so the co-ordinator of the walking group arranged for someone to bring him on a shorter walk. He doesn’t remember where he has been, but he enjoys the walks because it’s something he ‘has always done’, explains Hession.

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