In her presentation to the Dail committee, Dr Caitriona Crowe explained the working of the South Tipperary pilot project dealing with dementia. A key aspect was providing care for sufferers in their own homes
“We currently are or have provided support to over 340 people and their families, which is almost one third of the entire population of people with dementia in South Tipperary. These are all individuals outside the institutional care system, so living in their own homes, and part of our work was to sustain this. We have developed a very effective model and have some key learnings from the project which we think are very valuable in a national context.”
She said there are 48,000 people who are estimated to suffer from dementia in Ireland. That figure is projected to reach 96,000 by 2031 and 140,000 by 2041.
“This is a demographic time bomb at the very heart of communities across Ireland. We see every day that this is a very distressing diagnosis for people to face, and it is one which is becoming more of a reality for many families across Ireland.”, she said.
Dr Crowe added that there are over 1,000 people with dementia living in South Tipperary and the majority (88%) of those live alone as a couple. Most carers (89%) are caring for a single individual and half have been carers for more than three years. Half of the carers are themselves aged over 65 years.
In South Tipperary, funding from the Genio project had enabled them to establish a ground-breaking model.
“We were asked to form a consortium in South Tipperary to bid for that funding, and we placed at the very core of that consortium the people with dementia and their family carers, as well as all key HSE clinical staff like nurses, doctors, social workers, occupational therapists and HSE management, all working alongside four voluntary bodies – the Carers Association, the Alzheimers Society of Ireland, Muintir na Tire and the Community and Voluntary Forum. People with dementia and their families have been central to all our initiatives, enabling us to develop an effective model of caring for people with dementia,” she remarked.
She added that over the years they have garnered many ideas about the services and supports patients receive and how they can be enhanced and improved.
“Our experience told us a story about dementia in Ireland and we wanted to change that ending for as many people as possible. The aim was to put into practice new methods of caring for people with dementia in their communities rather than in inpatient care. If successful the projects would be adopted nationally and would influence the development of the emerging National Dementia Strategy. I was appointed as a member of the working group advising the Department on the development of the Dementia Strategy and I am now a member of the Monitoring Group set up to oversee its implementation”, she told the committee.
Dr Crowe said the scope of their project was ambitious - they wanted to transform the life experience of people with dementia and the lives of their families; to increase awareness of the illness among the general public; to dispel myths that surround the condition; to reduce stigma; and to get people to come forward earlier for diagnosis and treatment.
She pointd out that the project had been successfully evaluated by Professor Eamon O’Shea and Professor Suzanne Cahill (Trinity College Dublin), and their help had been invaluable.
“We are proud of what their reports show we have achieved. But we are also proud of the feedback from participating families, people with dementia and their carers. Our carers are happy to care, find caring exhausting, but feel the benefits of caring outweigh the sacrifices.”
Now was the time to go national with the project, as had been advocated by Professor O’Shea, she said, and to continue funding for the Tipp project.
“From the very outset, we knew that if our pilot project was successful, it could be adopted nationally and it would influence the future and long-term development of the emerging National Dementia Strategy which I’m involved in.”