Speech by Minister John Moloney at the opening of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland Annual National Conference

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be here with you today at the Society’s 11th Annual National Conference. I would particularly like to thank Maurice O’ Connell, Chief Executive Officer for his generous invitation to officially open the conference. I would also like to acknowledge at the outset the commitment and efforts of the Offaly Services and Carer Support Group in hosting this significant event in Tullamore over the weekend.

The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland is widely respected for the tremendous work it does in supporting people with dementia and to maximise their quality of life in so many ways. It enables them to live independently in the community, while at the same time supporting their families and carers.

The title of this weekend’s Conference – “Nurturing Ourselves, Caring for Each Other” is increasingly apt in our evolving society. It helps focus on the various issues and needs relevant to those with Dementia and their carers.

I note that the keynote address by Dr. Dominic Walsh of UCD relates to “Recent Developments in Medical Research”. This, I envisage, will be of particular interest to not only those present today but also those wider afield. The promise of medical science holds the best hope of relieving or even eliminating the onset of Dementia.

The presentation “Maintaining Health and Wellbeing in Dementia Care” aims to explore current thinking on this particular subject. This, I hope, will make an equally useful and informative contribution towards how best to progress various aspects of dementia care.

Few would argue that dementia is not one of the most significant health issues facing older people in Ireland today, given that age is the highest risk factor.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect more than 40,000 people in Ireland today. Current projections indicate that this number is expected to reach more than 100,000 by 2037.

Dementia is not confined to older people. At present, there are up to 4,000 people under the age of 65 who have some form of the disease. Very often these people have dependents. A recent analysis showed that in 50% of cases, the person with dementia was either the main or joint breadwinner in the family, and that there were children under 18 living at home.

Access to support services, such as counselling for all family members, including anticipatory bereavement counselling, which are specifically designed for younger people can be challenging, especially as such services tend to be targeted at older people.

Government Policy:

Government policy in relation to older people is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible and where this is not possible, to support access to quality long-term residential care. This policy research is renewed and developed in the latest partnership agreement Towards 2016.

The Action Plan for Dementia, published in 1999, outlines the complexity and range of issues involved in the effective management of dementia. The plan emphasises the need for the development of co-ordinated, multi-layered and well-resourced services, which are responsive to the individual needs of people with dementia and of those who care for them.

The recommendations in the plan include increased funding, changes to service delivery mechanisms, expanded Old Age Psychiatry services, increased support for family carers and provision of day care and respite services.

Since the report was published, community supports have been enhanced over the years and increased levels of funding have been made available to develop a wide range of community based services, including community nursing, paramedical services, home help services and support to family carers.

There is a complementary link between Government policy in the area of the care of older people and care for people with dementia. Both policies stress the need to provide support in dignity and independence, through the provision of appropriate services to the people concerned and their carers. The Government is fully committed to providing such support and service improvement, including the expansion of community and residential care services for people with dementia.

The additional funding provided for Home Care Packages and the Home Help Scheme will further enhance the supports available to families caring for people with dementia at home.

Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland

This condition undoubtedly has an immense physical, mental and emotional effect on those who live with it. The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland is tackling these challenges by providing assistance through their network of 22 branches and nearly 100 community-based specialist services.

I have been very impressed by the range of services provided by the Society which includes day care centres, home care programmes, and respite care.

The day centres provide invaluable specialist care, information and support. The home care programme nationwide relies to a large degree on trained care workers to assist with those with dementia and their families. The availability of the 24 hour respite care centre in Dublin offers a much-needed and appreciated break to families.

Two new initiatives by the Society are to be welcomed and deserve particular mention. These are the Safe Return Programme which is an innovative project being developed to address the problem of wandering.

Also, the Telecare Pilot Project adopts the most modern approach and thinking whereby the homes of 100 client families will be enhanced with specialist technology to assist with normal independent living.

Fair Deal

As you are all aware, Minister Harney recently published the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008. The Bill provides the legislative basis for the new Nursing Homes Support Scheme- A Fair Deal. Under the legislation, people will contribute towards their long-term nursing home care according to their means. Everybody’s medical need will be assessed the same way by the HSE. Everybody’s financial situation will be assessed the same way by the HSE and all but those with the highest incomes should receive some financial support from the State towards nursing home care. The scheme covers all persons in need of long term care, not alone older persons and it covers both public and private nursing homes. In effect the new scheme will make nursing home care •Accessible •Affordable •And anxiety-free

Given the enormous role played by carers in supporting people with dementia, I am certain that this Conference will make a valuable and timely contribution to enhancing the quality of life both of those with dementia and their carers. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to declare this Conference officially open.