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Warning of dementia 'time bomb' as 60,000 people in Northern Ireland to suffer by 2051

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 10/06/2015

Robert and his wife during later years when Olive suffered with dementia
Robert and his wife during later years when Olive suffered with dementia
Robert and Olive Ferguson in 2005
Robert and Olive Ferguson when they first met

Calls for urgent investment in care here amid warnings of a "dementia time bomb" have been made by a leading charity.

The number of people suffering from the condition in Northern Ireland is set to rise to 60,000 by 2051.

Dementia costs the UK economy up to £26 billion a year, including diagnosis, treatment and lost productivity.

This, according to Age NI, works out at an average annual cost of £32,250 per person. In Northern Ireland there are 19,000 people living with the cruel disease and levels are expected to rise to 23,000 in 2017 and 60,000 by 2051, the fastest expected rate of increase in the UK.

Speaking during Carers' Week, Robert Ferguson (83) explained how he became a carer for his wife Olive in 2009. After almost four years she passed away in 2012. Mr Ferguson, from Belfast, said even with family support, night-time hours were difficult.

"The signs were attention wandering, losing ability to express her thoughts through speech, tell time, count, read, write or answer questions," he said.

Northern Ireland's 214,000 unpaid carers save the economy £4.4bn a year. Mr Ferguson said that older carers needed support.

"You were alone as a carer with full responsibility for dressing, toileting, washing, looking after your loved one in the wee small hours," he said.

"You may be up many hours during the night and you just have to cope with it and do your best.

"Looking back, I would willingly do it all again. Yes, there were happy times. I recall one evening in hospital when Olive had recovered from an illness and was back to her former self, albeit briefly. As I approached the bed she saw me, her face lit up with that lovely smile I know so well. She uttered the simple words: 'Here's my Bobby now'."

Age NI's My Life My Way project volunteers and Alzheimer's Society's 'dementia friends' provide support to keep people at home for longer and living well with dementia despite the challenges.

Linda Robinson, chief executive of Age NI, said: "As a society we are experiencing a dementia time bomb. We have a rapidly ageing population, the fastest rate of increase in dementia diagnosis in the UK and growing numbers of older carers."

She said that dementia care for many remained "invisible".

"Invisible for those diagnosed and invisible for the loved ones and carers.

"Urgent action is needed with service providers working together to have an integrated support approach from early diagnosis through to end-of-life care."

She added: "Age NI's research has found that people with dementia are happier if they can live in their own home for as long as possible, but they need the right support to enable them to do this."

Help at hand

A diagnosis of dementia is stressful for anyone especially if they are already feeling isolated. As well as information and advice, continuous support for the person and the carers is critical. For more information on My Life, My Way support contact Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575

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