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A Harbour is a safe place, a place where one feels secure

The Memory Harbour at Clonskeagh Hospital, CHO 6 is a service for people in Dublin South concerned about their memory, those diagnosed with dementia and their families and carers. It was officially opened recently by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

The Minister was welcomed by Martina Queally, Chief Officer, and Eilis Hession, Project Lead for Living Well with Dementia. Also greeting the Minister were many people with dementia, their families, carers and representatives of the consortium that worked on the Living Well with Dementia StillorganBlackrock project.

Memory Harbour

The project was originally piloted from October 2012 to January 2016 and a lot of hard work and commitment was evident at the launch of the Memory Harbour that day. The Memory Harbour is an assistive technology and memory enablement demonstration site where people with dementia living in the Dublin South region, their families and health care workers, can come to observe the ideal environment that enable people with dementia to live well for longer in their own homes.

The demonstration rooms include a kitchen, bedroom, bathrooms and living room. Importantly, these rooms are equipped with clinically appropriate furniture, utensils and safety items to make living longer at home an achievable option. All the rooms include guidance on how to clearly signpost the daily routine and household items required for a normal day. For example, the kitchen has all cupboards and drawers labelled, and the frequently used items are stored together and within easy reach.

The microwave oven is part of a package with a provider who supplies the meals and a book showing the user which single button to press relative to the meal they want to reheat. This one-step approach enables people living with dementia to continue to dine at home long after it might otherwise have been deemed unsafe. The clocks have large digital screens and the day and date are included in luminous colours. The remote controls have only a few large buttons and the house phone has only four buttons, each with a photo of the family member assigned to the button. There are numerous memory tools around the site, including games, visual display boards and journals. The purpose of the Memory Harbour is to be a source of empowerment, education and support to people living with dementia, yet the practical achievement is providing brilliant life hacks for those living with dementia and their families and carers.

One of the most striking features on first encountering the Memory Harbour has to be the interior walls. An ingenious part of the project was adorning the corridors with wallpaper showing familiar scenes from Irish life, and their catchment area of Dublin South in particular. A fantastic mix of generic street scenes and familiar sights can be found. They include old telephone boxes, Irish pubs and shopfronts, the Lansdowne Road stadium, the Ha’penny Bridge and the delightful bandstand at Dún Laoghaire pier. The effect is instant, you feel like you are walking down memory lane, and it is this memory experience that is beautifully stirring in the minds of the people visiting.

The ‘Quiet Room’ is an oasis of calm, where one can sit in peace or use any of the memory enablement tools. One can listen to the radio, choose to watch clouds or the stars move over the ceiling and gaze out the window at the cows in the field or the flowers in the garden (more carefully chosen wallpaper scenes). In the corner sits a machine which carries an amazing array of sensory stimuli from various smells, sounds, lights, tactile materials and even a small water feature.

The Memory Harbour was the final action from the Living Well with Dementia (LWwD) pilot project. The key message of LWwD is “See the Person, not their Dementia”. The wishes of people with dementia, their families and carers were always at the heart of every decision and initiative taken. Over the lifespan of LWwD, feedback was sought from those who used the service, and it was overwhelmingly positive.

This feedback along with the initiatives and best practice from the project influenced Ireland’s first National Dementia Strategy which was launched in December 2014. It is clear that the great work of the many people involved (both HSE and wider community) will live on through the wonderful example the Memory Harbour has become.

An Occupational Therapist, working as the Dementia Development Officer is available at the Memory Harbour to assist those enquiring and it is now the single point of contact for people with dementia and families in the Dublin South East area. Speaking at the official opening Martina Queally, Chief Officer said, “The HSE is committed to a patient-centred, flexible, community-based service to meet the needs of people with dementia. Our focus remains on including natural supports such as family, friends and social interactions, as much as possible. The Living Well with Dementia service embodies this approach and we will ensure that this continues into the future when delivering services and supports to people with dementia.”

Congratulating those involved at the opening, Minister Harris said, “The National Dementia Strategy emphasises that most people with dementia live in their own communities and can continue to live well and to participate in those communities for far longer than many people appreciate. The Memory Harbour is a fine example of how a committed group of people, including people with dementia, can work together to empower people with dementia to live well as valued citizens in their own homes and communities.” 

For more information on dementia please visit the HSE’s