Her dementia is slowly worsening but former Montessori businesswoman Lily finds joy in day-care centre

Niamh Gilchrist with her mother Lily Gilchrist, who is living with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) at their home in Longford. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Eilish O'Regan

Lily Gilchrist thrived on being busy and working hard, running a Montessori school for 20 years and being ladies’ captain in the local golf club.

However, dementia has changed all that for the Longford native who sometimes struggles for words.

Ms Gilchrist (81) suffers from primary progressive aphasia which can damage parts of the brain that control language and personality.

She gets the best of care from her four children but the highlight of her week is her outing to the St Joseph’s day centre, run by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI).

“She goes every Saturday but starts talking about and looking forward to it from Thursday,” said her daughter Niamh.

My mother was only diagnosed by fluke in 2016. She had no idea

The outlet is designed as a social gathering for people with dementia where they do a range of activities, from arts and crafts to music therapy.

“My mother was only diagnosed by fluke in 2016. She had no idea. She was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to have a full-body scan. It was then the proteins showed up in the brain.”

Her condition has deteriorated over the years but it has progressed at a slow and steady pace and she still lives at home with her family who operate a roster to look after her with three carers.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin is to officially open the day centre in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath. Photo: PA

She will be among people with dementia who will gather in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, where a new day centre will be opened by Tánaiste Micheál Martin. The centre will offer various activities and programmes to promote cognitive stimulation, social engagement and physical activity.

When it was suggested Ms Gilchrist attend the Longford day-care centre, her family were sceptical that she would agree but they are delighted she enjoys it so much.

On This Day In History - 19th May

There are an estimated 1,154 people living with dementia in Westmeath, and an estimated 578 in Longford, while the number of people living with dementia is expected to double by 2050.

There are 64,000 people suffering dementia in Ireland, and the number of people with the condition in Ireland will double to more than 150,000 by 2045. There are an estimated 11,000 new cases of dementia in Ireland each year – at least 30 people a day, and anyone can get dementia, even people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Words are a huge issue for my mother. She recently asked me what that was around the wrist, which tells the time

The day-care service also allows relatives caring for loved ones some respite.

Niamh said she is also grateful for the carer from the Alzheimer Society, Bernie, who visits her mother weekly – giving her a chance to do shopping or other essentials without worry.

“Words are a huge issue for my mother. She recently asked me what that was around the wrist, which tells the time. She could not remember the word ‘watch’.”

Visits outside to meet relatives and friends must also be carefully planned and managed.

Speaking in advance of the opening, the Tánaiste said: “I am pleased to support the Alzheimer Society of Ireland in opening its new centre in Multyfarnham today.

“The development of dementia services and supports is a priority for Minister for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler. Over the past three years, €38.3m has been invested by [the] Government to improve dementia services around the country.

“This centre will allow the ASI to provide crucial supports and services to people living with dementia, as well as their families and their carers, in Westmeath and Longford.”