Living in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, 66-year-old Helen Rochford Brennan is only too aware of the service gaps and challenges facing patients.
She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease five years ago and is an advocate for dementia patients. She is chair of the European working group of people with dementia and former chair of the Irish Dementia Working Group.
Memory clinics were not part of Rochford Brennan’s diagnosis journey. She travelled to Galway and Dublin to access the necessary specialist assessments, scans, and tests to confirm a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“There were no memory clinics available in my area when I was being assessed and diagnosed and that situation hasn’t changed. It’s very difficult for people who have no option but to travel long distances to access services, and that’s no longer acceptable,” she said.
“We want dementia to be treated the same as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer with accessible services and support in every part of the country,” she said.
She said patients are losing out because of existing service gaps: "If the Department of Health and the HSE are serious about dementia there should be timely diagnosis."
“It is far more beneficial for the individual if dementia is detected as early as possible and it would also be far more cost-effective for the State and ultimately the taxpayer,” she added.
Developing standardised memory clinics, Rochford Brennan said would provide greater certainty for patients concerned about their memory, regardless of their age.
“We need to develop memory clinics in every region. They need to be standardised in what they do and the services they offer, and they should be driven by medical professionals and cater for all ages,” she said.
“Memory clinics could be a one-stop-shop for anyone with concerns about their memory, who could be assessed and referred for further tests if needed. Clinics could also provide support for people with a dementia diagnosis as well as their families and loved ones,” she said.