There’s much in the media today about the possible 240% increase in dementia diagnoses in Ireland, with experts estimating that the number of people being diagnosed with dementia will increase from 41,000 now to 140,000 in 2021, 25 years time.
However, when you read further, it emerges that many people in Ireland have been living with undiagnosed dementia and it’s only become apparent at the later stages. In comparison, Sweden with its higher proportion of older people (20% over 65 compared to 11% in Ireland) have had higher percentages of people with dementia. Part of that is down to having an older population of course, but Sweden also seems to have made the diagnosis of individuals earlier and while dementia has traditionally carried stigma in Ireland to some extent, that isn’t the case in Sweden.
As a result, Sweden has been much more pro-active in its care and treatment of older people with dementia, something Ireland can learn from. It’s argued that people with dementia don’t necessarily require specialist medical care but they do require normality, assistance, company and community. If people can live at home amongst their favourite possessions and following their own routine, that is considered best. If people have to go into a care home in Sweden, they can personalise their bedrooms with their own momentos. In some care homes, they can bring their own furniture and their own small pets.
Ireland is putting significant financial investment into a dementia strategy, designed to help with earlier diagnosis and improve care. Problems arise when services are poor and fragmented, when people become isolated, and when there is prejudice or stigma in society.
The Alzheimer’s Society is running a campaign entitled ‘Forget the Stigma’. What is of concern is if people are failing to go to the doctor or to admit the symptoms, fearing confirmation of a diagnosis but it is better to know, be informed and prepare. For most, life will continue as normal, perhaps with some assistance from a home carer. The Alzheimer’s Society would like the financial aid to be provided to help people to stay living independently in their homes for as long as possible and to make Ireland a dementia-friendly society. When you think that one in ten of us will be diagnosed with dementia after the age of 65, we all owe it to ourselves, to our friends, to our families and to our society to act and to ensure that people with dementia receive the care that is needed and deserved.
It is worth remembering that early deaths from cancer and heart disease were much greater in number two and three decades ago. Financial assistance and research has helped to lower death rates and also to provide those affected with cancer, for example, with much better care and support during and post treatment. We need the same to happen regarding dementia in Ireland.
At Comfort Keepers, some of our clients have dementia to some degree. Some will have early onset dementia and will require minimal help to live independently and alone. Others, perhaps because also of arthritis or other physical difficulties, will require help with cooking, shopping or personal care. The vast majority will continue to live at home for many years after a diagnosis of dementia. Some believe that the onset of dementia will happen swiftly and that nursing home care is the only answer. That’s not necessarily the case at all. Most will live very happily at home, enjoying the daily company from friends and their home carer, for many years.
At Comfort Keepers, we work closely with our clients and their families to ensure that they are happy, healthy and safe.