Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Implementation of National Dementia Strategy: Statements (Resumed)


2:00 pm

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I commend and support the implementation of the national dementia strategy. Its publication in December was both necessary and welcome because, as the country’s age profile increases, so too does the problem of dementia. Ireland’s population is aging as evidenced during the debates on the fair deal scheme. There will be nearly 1 million people aged over 65 by 2031, an increase of more than 86% or an extra 20,000 people per annum. I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for their efforts on the fair deal scheme. It is a natural consequence that dementia will become an increasing problem that needs to be planned for with proper structures and supports put in place.

We all know of the great work done by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Western Alzheimers in Ballindine, County Mayo. However, demands for their services are increasing but their resources are limited, meaning they have to come up with new strategies for fund-raising.

The increased projected figures for dementia given by NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin are startling. They suggest the number of people with dementia in the coming years could be as high as 94,000 by 2031 and 132,000 by 2041, three times higher than it was in 2011. This highlights the need for this dementia strategy. I was also surprised to learn dementia is a condition that affects younger people with almost 4,000 people under the age of 65 with the condition. This is an exceptionally vulnerable group of people about which little is known. They come under the radar and very few of them use community services. That is not surprising as they do not easily fit into service systems and structures designed for older people. This has implications for the individuals and their families because much of their care is done at home.

An estimated 50,000 family carers are looking after someone with one of six specified symptoms of dementia. Research shows that two thirds of all long-stay residents have dementia but many of them do not have a formal diagnosis. This brings on high stress levels among carers which are high by international standards.

The services in place for dementia are limited. As Deputy Kyne said, in Galway up to 2,700 people have dementia with 1,800 people in County Mayo. There are pockets of areas in these counties, such as in west Galway, where respite care services, for example, are not available. There is much work to be done. The strategy is a good start but it needs to be progressed as quickly as possible.

The overall cost for caring for dementia patients is enormous, a point which outlines the challenge facing us. I was surprised to learn that dementia is a very costly condition given its duration, as people can live for a long time after diagnosis, its disease burden and the level of disability associated with the illness over time. In fact, the overall societal cost of dementia exceeds that of coronary heart disease, cancer and stroke combined. Analysing the financial cost of dementia what is particularly striking is the fact that almost half, 48%, of the overall costs of dementia are borne by family and friends who provide the much needed care services required. A further 43% is accounted for by care in long-stay settings, while formal health and social care services contribute only 9% of the total costs of dementia. The average cost per person with dementia is estimated at €40,500 per annum.

It will be a significant challenge. However, our elderly people deserve to be looked after and the services and supports need to be put in place so they and their families can have comfort in their retired years. As we are all on the train to that stage of life, it will affect us all.


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