A new TV advertisement was aired today for the first time to highlight the impact of caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia and the important role of family and friends.
It tells the story of Jane Mullan from Blackrock, Co. Dublin and her daughter-in-law, Chloe O’Connor, who share their experiences of caring for Jane’s husband, Sean, since he was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Brian Lawlor, Consultant Psychiatrist and Chair of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, is encouraging people to reach out more to carers.
He said: "There are an estimated 180,000 people in Ireland who are currently, or who have been, carers for a family member or partner with dementia. Carers play an immensely valuable role; however, it can be challenging.
"Many of those who have received a diagnosis, their families and loved ones tell us of feeling isolated within their own communities, of being written out of daily life, because family, friends and neighbours don’t know what to do or say, and so they stay away.
“If you know someone who is a carer, don’t be shy or embarrassed or think that they are too busy to see you. Drop by for a chat, offer to do the shopping, or sit with their loved one for an hour so that they can have a break.
"Don’t underestimate the difference that continued friendship and emotional support can make. It goes a long way towards improving the health and wellbeing of the carer and lessens the sense of loneliness they can experience."
It is estimated that there are 55,000 people in Ireland living with dementia, and with around 11 people developing dementia every day, that number is expected to more than double by 2040.
For Jane Mullan, asking for help from family and friends has been all-important. Her advice to anyone else looking after a loved one with dementia is to ask for help.
She said: "After Sean was first diagnosed, I stopped for a couple of months and went in to a kind of depression; it was all just too much for me. But the family were terrific and so were his friends.
"I would always ask for help and it’s always been forthcoming. I would always tell people to ask for that help, not to let yourself sink under that weight."
Jane says she could not do without the help of her son Conor and his wife Chloe, who moved into the family home to help with Sean’s care.
She said: "I think I was quite lonely and quite lost before they moved in. It is great to have Conor and Chloe here and have somebody to see things in a different way. I don’t think I was dealing with it very well before they came to live with us."
Daughter-in-law, Chloe, says that they have a structured support system in place to ensure the round-the-clock care does not become too much for any of them.
Chloe said: "There are a lot of practicalities that we have to manage. There’s a lot of work in getting all the medication together. Jane does all that.
"And it is tough just trying not to forget that we need to write everything down. There is a lot of communication amongst ourselves about the practical things that Sean needs to know.
"We have to be aware of what everyone is doing all the time. That is fine but it can be a bit draining. You can’t decide to not bother about something one day – it has to be done all the time."
Since Sean was diagnosed, Jane says she has been very up-front with people about his condition.
She said: "Sean didn’t want anyone to know but I felt it was important that people knew so they could look out for him down the road when things might go a bit astray. Everyone has been fantastic.
"It is nothing to be ashamed of. I suppose from Sean’s angle, it was the privacy – he didn’t want people talking about him. At the beginning he would laugh and say he had a problem with his memory but now he openly says that he has Alzheimer’s."
Despite Sean’s condition, Jane says that they continue to have a full and happy life.
Jane said: "He goes for a walk on the pier every day and he meets lots of people. It’s great socially and he’s getting great exercise. Sean continues to go on holiday with his friends regularly and it’s a break for me.
"It is good to be able to have that space to yourself. And it’s great when our son Hugh and his wife Bea come over from Connemara with the three grand-children because children react very naturally. They say ‘oh we know you forget’, and he gets such great craic from them, it’s absolutely brilliant."
Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe, HSE National Director of Health and Wellbeing, said that they hope the campaign inspires communities to include people with dementia and those caring for them.
She said: "Part of that is seeing the day-to-day reality from a carer’s perspective, and knowing how our help can make a big difference – whether it's calling in or phoning a neighbour for a chat, or as a business, undertaking dementia awareness training for customers.
"Each one of us can make a difference in our personal and community lives, while our health service takes on the ongoing challenge of meeting the health and social needs of people living with dementia."
The ad is part of the Dementia: Understand Together initiative, led by the HSE in partnership with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio.
If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is support, information and advice available here.