FORMER businesswoman Helen Rochford has spoken of the trauma of being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at a time when her life was never so busy.
Helen (63), from Tubbercurry in Sligo, was on several committees, held an executive role in the Irish Wheelchair Association and was chairwoman of the Western Development Commission when she received the devastating news more than a year ago.
However, struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis was made even more difficult by the lack of support or service for people like her who are under 65.
"I was told the news and then went for months with no idea what to do. You are just left there," said Helen, who is married with one grown-up son.
Helen told her story at the launch of the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland's pre- Budget submission yesterday, which highlighted the increasing difficulties faced by 41,700 people with the disease – a figure that will rise to 140,000 by 2041.
Helen spoke of how she knew something was wrong for three years but thought it would pass.
"If I read a newspaper I could not remember what I had read. A lot of people think it is about memory but it is more about your intellectual abilities to function.
"I eventually went to a neurologist and a geriatrician who diagnosed early-onset Alzheimer's. Once the diagnosis was made, there was nowhere to turn to."
Helen is now on medication to delay the progression of the disease and has become involved in a working group set up jointly by the Alzheimer's Society and Trinity College to come up with practical ways of helping those who are newly diagnosed.
"We need a strategy to be available to people with dementia including those with early onset.
"At its most basic level, we also require the HSE to acknowledge our existence," she added.
Gerry Martin, the society's chief executive, said: "If the number of people with dementia in residential long-stay care was reduced by only 10pc, it would lead to a saving of €73m. Early intervention strategies are essential."