Dementia is not a single disease - in fact it describes a range of symptoms caused by diseases of the brain. These symptoms affect multiple brain functions including memory, behaviour and our ability to do everyday tasks.
In Ireland, there are currently around 55,000 people living with dementia. Each year over 4,000 Irish people develop dementia; which works out at roughly 11 people a day – people like you and me. Although most people who develop dementia are over 65 years old it is not a normal part of getting older. In fact some people develop dementia in their 30s/40s and 50’s - about 10% of those living with dementia in Ireland are under 65.
As the number of people with dementia is increasing each day, this means that it is more and more likely that we will know someone diagnosed with dementia. At the moment, around half a million of us are living in families that have been or are currently affected by dementia, and 180,000 of us have cared for or are currently caring for a partner or family member.
As dementia could happen to any of us or to someone we know, this means that we all need to learn a little bit more about dementia – what the signs are, what the risk factors are and how we can help people who have dementia.
At the moment only 1 in 4 people in Ireland claim to have a good understanding of dementia.. This lack of awareness can make life harder for people with dementia, their families and their carers. While people might not be intentionally unkind, sometimes people avoid those living with dementia and their loved ones as they simply don’t know what to say. It’s important that we understand more and realise that sometimes simply a kind word or asking how someone is doing can make all the difference to someone with dementia or their loved one.
As people are living longer than ever, we expect that the number of people with dementia in Ireland will double over the next 20 years, from 55,000 today to 113,000 in 2036. Dementia presents many challenges but with the right supports people with dementia can live well for many years. Creating understanding and compassionate communities is an important element in ensuring that life - though it may change - doesn’t end with a diagnosis of dementia.