People suffering from Alzheimer's in Wexford are being deprived of vital services due to a lack of supports in the county. The local arm of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) currently consists of one small office, located in Slaney Street in Wexford Town, with just two full-time members of staff.
In addition, ten carers are employed to service the entire county, Government funding enabling them to work for 175 hours per week at no cost to the ASI. However, such is the limitation of services there are currently 60 people on the waiting list for carers in Wexford, with no possible way of meeting their needs without additional funding.
Patricia Stafford has been caring for a family member with Alzheimer's for the past three years, and she believes that it is time a proper ASI branch was established in Wexford to assist with fundraising and increase the number of available carers.
'Currently the services available are quite limited. The 10 carers have 30 clients throughout the county who they're able to visit twice a week, for two hours. But there's 60 people on the waiting list for carer assistance and no way of servicing them without extra funding,' she says.
And this is having a knock-on effect for those living with the disease on a daily basis.
'People who are caring for those with Alzheimer's are under a lot of strain, it starts from the moment of diagnosis,' says Patricia. 'It's a blow for the person, but also a terrible blow for the family. Because the illness is systematic, it has an effect on the whole family. And you're not given the tools or education to handle it. Getting assessments done early is important, interventions can be introduced, and the family are the best people to do that in terms of keeping the person physically active and providing cognitive exercises and rehabilitation. But it needs to be done in a professional way.'
According to Patricia, the creation of a bona fide county branch would provide the kind of supports and educational tools required for those dealing with the diagnosis of the disease.
'We need our own branch, it would allow us to recruit volunteers which would enable us to fund raise. It would provide education and allow us to educate carers in the home. Carers are carrying the burden of the disease, and they need more respect. The Fair Deal Scheme cover people's stays in nursing homes. But you want to keep the person in a family environment for as long as possible if you can. And the only way you can do that is with proper supports.'
Keeping those with Alzheimer's at home is something Patricia is passionate about, and she called upon Minister of State, Jim Daly, to implement the statutory homecare scheme first mooted by his predecessor in 2017,
'In the wake of the Brendan Courtney documentary on RTE called 'We have to talk about Dad' a poll suggested 85% of Irish people would prefer to be cared for at home in their old age,' Patricia said. 'The Minister of State for Older People at the time was Helen McEntee, and she confirmed she was committed to establishing a new statutory homecare scheme, with an initial public consultation to begin in January 2017. But nothing happened,' Patricia said.
Upon assuming the role of Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People in June 2017, Jim Daly reiterated the importance of home care services: 'He felt that a timeline of two to three years to bring in a new home care system was ambitious but could be achieved. We are now in the third year of this forecast and nothing has happened,' Patricia added.
And if people are to stay in the home for longer and acclimatise to life with Alzheimer's or other dementia-related diseases, Patricia believes the public need to have a better understanding of the condition.
'There's a big need for community support, when you go out with the person you're caring for there needs to be an understanding of the situation. It's all about dignity and the way people approach them,' she said.
Describing it as a 'heartbreaking' disease to live with, Patricia says that Alzheimer's can feel like a loss of sorts.
'It is utterly heartbreaking to see a person in their sixties look back at you like a five-year old. It's not comparable to death because the person is still there, but the sense of communication goes, the other person loses their ability for logic. There's a slow losing of the person, it can be so slow and gradual, you don't notice the decline. It can happen in a heartbeat, people can deteriorate so fast.'
The Wexford office of the ASI can be contacted on 085 872 4674 or at email@example.com