Network’s support for people with dementia

Ann Twomey, Dr Miche·l Hynes, Dr Tony Foley and Deirdre Cullen, all members of K-CoRD's management committee. K-Cord is inviting people living in Kinsale and nearby towns to help build a dementia-friendly community.

Q&A: Liz Creed
Dementia is an umbrella of symptoms, which can affect memory, personality, behaviour and communication.

Alzheimer’s is its most common form.

One in three people over 65 will develop dementia. Some 41,000 people in Ireland were diagnosed with the condition in 2012. And that figure is expected to increase to 140,000 by 2041.

Now one Cork town is at the forefront of the drive to find a compassionate as well as a cost-effective solution to this challenge.

K-Cord issues an invitation to the people of Kinsale and surrounding areas to take part in making Kinsale a dementia-friendly community. And to that end they appealed to those who have been direct-ly affected by dementia and their carers and health care professionals to register with their newly formed network.

And now K-cord’s (Kinsale Community Response to Dementia) holistic approach is starting to capture people’s attention.

“What we wanted to establish is a network of support and primary care that would allow a person with dementia to remain in their home if that is their wish, and to be active and remain integrated into their communities,” said GP and the project’s leader Tony Foley. “Kinsale is one of four towns in Ireland which have been chosen to pursue this objective.”

The four towns received funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the HSE through the charity Genio Forward thinking policies can make an enormous difference to the lives of those with dementia. Imagine a town or village where dementia is no longer a word guaranteed to evoke fear which can all too often result in people avoiding those with the condition — more out of lack of under-standing than ill-will.

And thanks to the work being done by the people in Kinsale, a dementia-friendly town is becoming a reality.

An important part of the work being done by K-Cord is in education and information so that banks, social clubs and other institutions have the information and assistance they need to deal with their clients in a way that is effective for them and does not undermine that person’s self-esteem and personhood.

It’s all too easy for a person with dementia to become isolated from their community and reliant on their imme -diate family and carers.

K-Cord pays particular attention to those unsung heroes, the carers who work 24/7, save the health service millions and who give those with dementia the opportunity to remain in their own homes for as long as this is practical.

I worked with a group of elders, most of whom had some form of dementia, and it was a rare experience. There were good days and bad for these people as their illness was at different stages and expressed itself differently in each person.

I learned very quickly that it was a case of finding what method of communication was most effective on any particular day.

Songs, music and stories were popular with our group. Then on one grey and dispiriting November day, we came up with an idea that initially seemed improbable, but in the end, turned out to be a great success. We decided that what we all needed most at the time was a bit of a laugh and so we set to work to produce a comedy show. I won’t say that pulling the whole thing together was easy but it was well worth it.

And importantly, everyone could play a part, members of our group and in some cases, their families and carers too.

If they were not up for being on stage then they may well have come up with some great jokes that someone else delivered, or perhaps revealed a keen eye for staging sets, costumes, carpentry, lights and so on. Our production provided a great forum for individual expression, and proved the point that laughter really can be the best medicine.

I talked to K-Cord’s project manager, Liz Creed, about the group’s progress.

¦ When was K-Cord launched?

>> “It was August of last year. Of course, plenty of work had gone on beforehand. many local health professionals had expressed the wish to see a change in the approach to the dementia issue. And we were all agreed that we wanted to see carers directly involved in the consortium we formed. We were fortunate enough to be one of the four towns chosen out of 18 to be granted funding by Genio.

¦ And what was the vision that guided you?

>> “We wanted to see a town — and towns in fact — where a person with dementia could remain active and could be supported by family and community, that they would continue to be included, and that they would have access to specialised care at their journey’s end. “Now we have advocates, volunteers, carers and a fantastic team of health care specialists. We provide a series of skill sets that enable people to be more supportive. It’s a very user-driven service.”

¦ Do you think that the stigma surrounding those with dementia is still a problem?

>> “It can be but I think that’s improving as people’s level of understanding grows. I have met so many people who have had incredible experiences around this issue and yet it’s rarely talked about. People can be reluctant to actually use the word dementia and if a neighbour has Alzheimer’s, they may think that they should stay away from that family. But in many cases, the essence of the person with dementia is still there. People do tend to rally round and I think that, basically, we are lovely, caring people. We have a cafe on Wednesdays, a carer support group, and we want to make sure that there is something in place for everybody who is affected. Dementia can be a very long journey for some people.”


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