South Tipperary rolls out pilot project to aid Alzheimers and dementia sufferers

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Twelve support workers have been recruited to help South Tipperary people with dementia to lead as full a life as possible.

The peer support workers are assigned to a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia conditions over a six to eight week period to help them continue or get involved in social activities and keep connected with their community.

They have been recruited by South Tipperary’s new Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia project through the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland and Carers Association.

“It’s very much activity based,” explains clinical nurse specialist in old age psychiatry Noel Maher, who is deputy project leader of “Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia”.

“Over a six to eight week period, the peer support workers work with clients to find new interests and activities for them in the community, to give them support and be a support to their families and carers.

“It might involve linking them with other services in the community or helping them to get involved in clubs, community groups and sports.

Mr Maher said they currently have 12 peer support workers and there are plans to take on more.

The service is currently helping a group of people with dementia in Clonmel and it’s hoped to role it out to other parts of South Tipperary over the next year.

“Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia” is a €700,000 pilot project that aims to improve the quality of life of some dementia sufferers and their families in the county over the next three and a half years.

It is jointly funded by the HSE and Atlantic Philantrophies, the foundation set up by Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney. The project is also being run by the Genio Trust, a charity working in the areas of disability, mental health and dementia.

Dr Catriona Crowe, the consultant in old age psychiatry in South Tipperary’s mental health service, is leading the pilot project that has the goal of preventing significant numbers of people with dementia from having to avail of nursing home care prematurely.

The project team includes Dr Crowe’ old age pyschiatry team, South Tipperary General Hospital’s two consultant geriatricians, representative of local GPs, public health, community and dementia nurses and HSE officials.

It also includes three dementia patients, three carers, Carers Association, Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Munitir na Tire and South Tipperary’s Community and Voluntary Forum.

South Tipperary is one of just four locations in the country to host the three and a half year dementia project that has the goal of diverting significant numbers of people with dementia from having to avail of nursing home care prematurely.

The project, which was launched last August, is putting into practice new methods of caring for people with dementia in their communities rather than in inpatient care.

And if the project is successful, it’s hoped its initiatives will be rolled out to dementia patients nationwide.

The Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia project is based at Rosehill on Clonmel’s Glenconner Road and Chris Morrissey was appointed as its co-ordinator last October.

Her job is to co-ordinate the delivery of the project’s services and initiatives to dementia patients and act as the project’s main contact for patients and their families seeking information and help.

As its name implies, the project’s services are structured around the five stages of dementia.

Dr Crowe says the first pre-diagnosis stage is focused on increasing public awareness and education about dementia and how to prevent the condition.

A secondary schools art competition to select a logo for the project is currently being run to raise awarenss of dementia among young people. Eight schools across South Tipperary are taking part in the competition at the moment.

The appointment of the project co-ordinator and peer support workers are what the project has done so far for people recently diagnosed with dementia and whose condition is progressing.

For those recently diagnosed with dementia, Dr Crowe said the project is also currently organising information and support groups for people newly diagnosed with dementia.

“We are setting up one every two months over the course of this year and they will be in different venues in South Tipperary,” she explains.

“The first information and support group meeting will take place in St Patrick’s Hospital in Cashel on March 7.”

For those in the fourth stage of advanced dementia, Dr Crowe says her team is planning to assist patients to continue living at home safely as long as possible with the aid of “assisted technologies” in their home.

And the project is working on developing palliative care services for.patients at the end of their lives so that they are given the appropriate care to allow them die with dignity.

“We have a group working on developing models of care and it’s progressing very well,” says Dr Crowe.

Research is also being carried out by the Genio Trust on the practical and cost effectiveness of the initiatives the Five Steps to Living with Dementia project is rolling out for South Tipperary’s dementia patients. The research is being conducted by researchers at Trinity College Dublin and NUI Galway,.

Dr Crowe points out that the work of South Tipperary’s Five Steps to Living With Dementia project and the other three similar projects around the country will contribute to the development of the National Dementia Strategy the Government is drawing up at the moment.

Anyone wishing to find out more about the Five Steps to Living Well with Dementia Project should contact Chris Morrissey at (087) 0550050 or email her at sthtippdementiaproject@gmail.com.