Numbers with dementia will soon multiply
Despite our growing older population, Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to produce a dementia strategy
Ireland’s growing ageing population means that the number of people living with dementia will treble in a generation.
There are currently almost 48,000 people living with dementia, over half of whom have Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. That number is expected to rise to 153,157 by 2046, according to a 2013 study, The Prevalence of Dementia in Ireland, by Suzanne Cahill and Maria Pierce.
Against these figures, the country’s first National Dementia Strategy is due to be published shortly, making Ireland one of the last countries in Europe to produce a strategy.
In 2011, the Government announced its commitment, under the Programme for Government, to the development of a National Dementia Strategy.
Last year, the Department of Health convened a working group to oversee its development. The working group is made up of the HSE, the Department of Health, clinicians, academics, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) and service providers.
As a key advocacy organisation, the ASI wants to ensure that the voice of the person with dementia and that of the carer is heard.
Gerry Martin, the chief executive officer of the ASI, says that through lobbying, the society has concentrated on a number of areas and is “very aware that first and foremost we need to raise awareness of the issues surrounding dementia. We need to open up a conversation”.
Martin says there is a big stigma attached to dementia.
“We don’t believe the conversation is as open as it needs to be. It’s like where we were with the issue of cancer 20 or 30 years ago. People need to be prepared to speak about dementia in a positive way, in a way that concentrates on people continuing to live well even after what is a devastating diagnosis.
“Within our own services, we have noticed that people are not comfortable using words such as ‘Alzheimer’ or acknowledging that there is an issue to be faced. A serious campaign is needed to support the National Dementia Strategy.”
Dealing with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease “is better than ignoring it”.
“There is no cure; let’s acknowledge that. But once people recognise the condition, they can be supported and have a better trajectory than people who are not supported. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better. “Certain medication can have an impact on the condition but even outside the medical frame, people who can get information early will be in a position where they can plan for their own future, both in terms of care and on practical issues such as legal and financial planning.”
Lack of awareness
Martin says there is a lack of awareness about the diagnosis of dementia/ Alzheimer’s disease and about what supports are available for people who have been diagnosed.
“That leads to GPs and other healthcare professionals tending to shy away from making the diagnosis. That’s a real disaster.