THE Alzeihmers Society has warmed of a dramatic increase in the number of cases that is to happen over the next 20 years.
Speaking at a presentation to the Corporate Services Committee at Down District Council, Thelma Abernethy, Area Manager for the Northern Ireland Alzheimers Society, said, “People are now living longer. They have better lifestyles and diet and as a result, dementia is an issue which is gaining greater prominence within discussions about ageing and public services. Developing dementia-friendly communities focuses on supporting the well-being of those people in both stages of dementia who are trying to live in the community. This is part of the essential work that councils and other bodies need to be doing to prepare for an ageing society.
“There are over 600 different types of dementia and research is ongoing to find out the complex causes. What we wish to see is early diagnosis with a family plan in place for the sufferer. We are not yet sure what causes this disease but over teh next five years in the UK alone, £165 will be committed to research.
“We are promoting the Dementis Friendl;y Communities Programme and are trying to get our message out across Northern Ireland. Currently there are 19,000 living with dementia in Northern Ireland and forty per cent do not have a diagnosis yet. We know that the figures will more than treble in the next twenty to thirty years.This is very alarming. This disease impacts on the wider family circle.
“Our aim basically is to make our community more dementia friendly and to support people living with dementia to maintain their independence fro as long as possible. Also we would like to see businesses and local organisations becoming aware of how dementia sufferers may present themselves and how they can deal with this situation to ensurer the sufferer is treated properly.”
Mrs Abernethy explained that every business will come into contact with someone who suffers from dementia whether is be shops and restaurants in the retail sector or other public services. Dementia sufferers tend to be sensitive to noise and to places that may be overcrowded, therefore support is needed in these circumstances.
She added: “We will be delivering an media/publicity awareness campaign with a group of fifty volunteers. It is surprising how many people still do not know how to access services for dementia. And we want to see businesses and organisations develop dementia friendly policies and share good practice. Our role is therefore to provide support for local organisations to achieve this. We must prepare for what lies ahead of us.”
Committee Chair Councillor Colin McGrath thanked Mrs Abernethy and said: “It is important for Councils to be aware of what is good practice regarding members of the community with dementia. Will we continue to work with Alzheimer’s Society NI to increase public awareness, equip our Council run facilities and continue to challenge some of the negativity around this illness.
“Perhaps we can set up an awareness stand on site in the Council and set up a corporate policy on dementia. Out database too could be used for sending out information and leaflets.”
Councillor McGrath also raised the issue of what happens when the symptoms appear before someone is sixty years old when they can be assesses, and Mrs Abernethy explained she is currently lobbying the Health Minister to have this changed as she has come across cases of younger people being affected by Alzheimers. After some discussion, the committee agreed to also write to the Minister and seek his support on this and ask for clarification.
Councillor Carmel O’Boyle said: “Much work will have to be done over the next few years to prepare for this. It is very frightening for families when this happens. They have to come to terms with ‘the long goodbye’.”
Councillor Billy Walker said: “I would like to congratulate you on the work you are doing and it is hugely important you receive all the support you can get to get the message out.”
For more information about Alzheimer’s Society NI visit www.alzheimers.org.uk