Experts warn of dementia a ‘time bomb’ in the next 25 years

The Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia initiative is running in south Tipperary until October

The number of people living with dementia is expected to increase from the current 48,000  to 96,000 in 2031 and more than 140,000 by 2041. Photograph:  John Stillwell/PA Wire

The number of people living with dementia is expected to increase from the current 48,000 to 96,000 in 2031 and more than 140,000 by 2041. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

 

The problem of dementia is a demographic “timebomb” because of the predicted trebling in the number of sufferers over the next 25 years, according to a consultant in old age psychiatry.

Dr Caitriona Crowe told a conference in Cashel the number was expected to increase from the current 48,000 living with dementia here to 96,000 in 2031 and more than 140,000 by 2041, “unless a cure is found in the meantime”.

Prof Eamon O’Shea of NUIG said the next 10 years were “critical” for how we dealt with dementia as a nation.

Dr Crowe and others have been delivering a pilot project in south Tipperary over the past three years. They hope to see the services they have introduced made permanent and extended throughout the country in the near future.

“We have a time bomb on our hands,” she said. “We’re not doing a great job with the 48,000 people with dementia at the moment.

“That’s a huge driver for the Government in terms of policy.”

The Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia initiative, funded through the HSE by Atlantic Philanthropies, is running in south Tipperary until October.

It is one of four pilot projects, along with counterparts in Mayo, south Dublin and Kinsale, being run to assess how services for people with dementia and their carers can be improved.

Its aims include dispelling myths and stigma about dementia, emphasising it is something to live with and not necessarily to die from, and transforming the perception that a diagnosis of dementia is like a death sentence. It is also focused on providing people-centred care.

Measures include appointing dementia support workers to go into the homes of people living with the condition.

“The aim is to delay the need for long-term care, allowing people to remain living at home and as active participants in their own communities,” Dr Crowe said.

“The response we have now for people with dementia, we think is good. It’s responsive, it’s flexible, it’s non-bureaucratic and it’s highly cost-effective.”

Prof O’Shea of the centre for social gerontology at NUIG, who wrote an action plan for dementia in the 1990s, described the pilot scheme as “transformational” in south Tipperary. “This is the human condition in all its frailties,” he said. “It’s cognitive impairment but it’s still the human condition and it’s something we have got to think about and support in terms of the resources people get.”

Helen Jenkins, who cared for both her parents in their home after they were diagnosed with dementia, said she was delighted that carers and patients were being asked for their input into the project.

“[That] has not happened before,” she said.