Gloria Hunniford shares experience of dementia as she supports new initiative
Years after losing her older sister Lena to dementia, TV presenter Gloria Hunniford is championing a new model of elderly care in Northern Ireland.
"Most families don't want to put someone in a home, it's a particular fear of Irish families," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"That was the culture in my sister's household, but the reality is she became a danger not only to herself but to her husband who was 80 at the time.
"She would do things like leave the gas on and not light it, therefore that could have been really dangerous."
"Another thing is she would leave doors open and try to get out in the middle of the night. She wanted to go 'home' to her mum and dad and to her bicycle. In the end it became impossible for my brother-in-law to look after her."
Although content the care home was the right choice at the time, she said it was hard to shake the institutional feeling.
"I stayed in a similar home for a week as part of a BBC documentary. There was a gentleman who was mentally so sharp, but he was in a wheelchair.
"He ate all his meals in his room and didn't join in any activities. I found that really sad, it was quite institutional. It just struck me that even though he had freedom he was locked away."
She said the "bright and bubbly" EastEnders actress Dame Barbara Windsor was also in her thoughts after news this week that she was in the advanced stages of dementia.
"It was a very heartfelt statement from her husband, just about how difficult it is to deal with properly," she said.
"I think what happens initially with dementia is that people make mistakes in conversation or become forgetful. You tend to correct them, but you learn as a family not to do that all the time and go along with certain things."
As guest of honour, last night Ms Hunniford launched a flagship new project for the Belfast Central Mission.
Copelands Dementia will provide nursing and residential care between Donaghadee and Millisle in Co Down. Due to open in early 2020, the new home will comprise six households, each holding 10 residents.
A first for Northern Ireland, the setup is based on the Household model of care developed in America and aims to replicate the feeling of home for those living with dementia.
Visual clues and familiar activities help residents to avoid confusion and increased anxiety as well as helping staff and residents to interact more easily.
"If we're honest everyone would want to stay in their own homes, but sometimes that's not possible," Ms Hunniford said.
"But here people are being encouraged to cook, read and join in a bit of light housework. It's more like being at home. If you can create that environment,
I think that's very exciting."