My name is Helen Rochford- Brennan. I come from Tubbercurry in Co Sligo and I want to give you a brief idea of who I am/was before being diagnosed last year with early onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 62.
I lived for many years in the US and UK working at senior executive management level. I returned home a number of years ago and have worked in the tourism and disability sector. I have been a community activist working for social justice, and I was chair of a state agency at my time of diagnosis.
During the past few years I seemed to have difficulty retaining information. My memory appeared to be impaired and my intellectual abilities were not functioning to their full capacity.
Over time I realised there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I resigned from my job with a heavy heart because I could not cope.
I attended a neurologist and geriatrician and finally last July I was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, after a long and difficult period of wondering what was the matter with me. There is no way I can describe the shock, I had to drive home over 60 miles and wondered how I was going to tell my husband and son.
My spirituality came to mind and I decided to drive to Knock and stop off for a chat which gave me some peace. I visited my GP Dr Seamus O'Baoghill who was very supportive and continues to be.
The only way I can describe those first couple of months was heartbreak.
The consultant mentioned The Alzheimer Society of Ireland to me. After working in disability for so long and being aware of the age profile in The Alzheimer Society of Ireland day care centre in Sligo, I simply cried at the thought of attending.
I withdrew from my public activities due to fear of not remembering and my inability to function to my full capacity.
I had lots of different emotions – sadness at the loss of all my colleagues, frustration, loneliness, depression and anger about life's changes.
Having no idea of where to get help with the exception of my GP, life was depressing.
I wish somebody had been there to tell me Alzheimer's is not just about memory, it impacts on our ability to accomplish daily tasks and it hinders our thinking process.
Alzheimer's kills the brain cells responsible for memory, thinking and behaviour.
I visited The Alzheimer Society of Ireland before Christmas and the nurse mentioned to me about getting involved in research and also to finally let people know I had the illness. I followed up on the research and after a conversation with Professor Dr Michelle Kelly of Trinity College, and a meeting of the Irish Working Group of People with Dementia, I got the courage to re-engage with one of my areas of volunteering.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has given me the courage to try and look forward with confidence. A solution is what is required for getting services for early onset Alzheimer's. I want to be part of the solution.
I want to help influence policy makers to promote the need for high quality services to benefit people living with dementia, and their carers. What is important to me now is quality of life, not quantity of life.
Letting my friends know was painful not just for me but for them also. There were lots of tears. My siblings were in denial and my friends did not know how to react. Some of my acquaintances avoid me or have as little interaction as possible until they realise I am the same Helen Rochford-Brennan.
The stigma around the illness has been so difficult to accept. Alzheimer's is tough to accept. I want to get the message across to the newly diagnosed that they are not alone.
We need to be diagnosed as early as possible, especially for our families. It is so important that GPs refer patients at an early stage to consultants. Day care centres may not be suitable for those of us with early onset Alzheimer's, so alternatives need to be researched.
We need space and a specialist service to discuss our needs and information about our illness, help us maintain our friendships, hobbies and day-to-day skills in order to have an active life. We also require support for our families or carers.
It is vital that a National Dementia Strategy is developed. We need a HSE plan that will address such issues as finance, careers and family support.
I live my life one day at a time; however, like most people I had dreams of life after retirement. Dreams of attending events with my husband Sean across the country.
Nowadays, sadly, these dreams seem to be for someone else as my memory rarely allows me to think of the future and when I do, I know the difficulties this illness brings prevents me from fulfilling many of them.
For now I will try to concentrate on developing a rose garden even though I know very little about gardening, a new rose bud gives me great enjoyment and hope, hope that like the mystery of a new rose a cure for my illness will soon appear.
Finally, thank you to The Alzheimer Society of Ireland for supporting me in writing this.
For more information visit www.alzheimer.ie or call the Alzheimer National Helpline 1800 341 341, or email email@example.com The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has launched a public awareness campaign which aims to inform people on how they can reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer's and dementia in later life.