A diagnosis of dementia can often leave a person and their family feeling completely alone and isolated.
But a recent series of community awareness talks took place in Kilkenny and Carlow to help people come to terms with the challenges ahead of them and inform them on the many supports available to them.
The talks, part of the nationwide Dementia: Understand Together initiative led by the HSE, with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio, were given by nurses Mary Hickey and Joan McDonald. They both have extensive experience of working with people with dementia at the Kilkenny Memory Clinic at St Columba’s Community Hospital.
The aim of the talks was to raise awareness and understanding of dementia among the community and reduce the stigma around the condition by talking openly about it. The talks were focused on both people who have been diagnosed with dementia and their family and friends. They sought to help people with dementia to live well, to inform the community how they can support friends and neighbours, and what we all can do to minimise our risk of dementia in our later years.
Mary explained that there was a good mix of people at the community awareness sessions in Bagnalstown Carlow and Graignamanagh in Co Kilkenny.
“We had one couple who was already going through dementia, as well as three other families who were living through the early stages of dementia and coming to terms with a diagnosis. One lady was particularly tearful,” said Mary.
“We showed them videos about how to recognise the early signs of dementia and what to look out for. We also explained to them what to do if they have any concerns, either about themselves or somebody close to them. We showed the TV ads too featuring Maureen and Paddy and I think they have been brilliant for normalising the condition.
“We have worked with Maureen and Paddy and they were very brave to come out and speak about the condition. They simply wanted to spread the word. Paddy said he feels that it will be his legacy to help get a conversation started about dementia.”
Another key part of the information sessions was educating businesses in the community on how to be dementia-friendly and training their staff to be able to deal with customers with dementia.
“We were eager to get to talk to local businesses and teach them how they can care for people informally. It is important that staff in retail and banks know how to deal with situations as they occur and how to handle their concerns,” explained Mary.
“Staff also need to know how to communicate with people who have dementia and training is key to that. The resources out there are super and really explain how to get around a situation.
“Basically, we were there to inform people, emphasise the importance of community support and talk them through the campaign itself. Dementia affects a whole community and it is important that we know how to look out for one another.”
After the information talk, there was a question and answer session that lasted about 40 minutes.
“There was a huge demand for information. People were unaware that there was so much available to them. We showed them where to go online for the resources, but the majority of people affected are in their 60s, 70s and 80s so they aren’t accessing their information online. That’s not how they get their information,” said Mary.
“The website is a massive resource for people. There is brilliant support for carers there and people can do a county by county search to see all the services available to them. It’s great to have it so accessible and in one place.”
Late last year, the pair also ran the programme in six secondary schools in the area, taking in approximately 250 Transition Year students.
Joan and Mary carried out the programme voluntarily and are hopeful that other communities around the country might replicate the talks in their own areas.