Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 16,000 people in Northern Ireland have a form of dementia — more than half have Alzheimer’s disease — but by 2051, 47,000 people will be living with dementia.
While research is ongoing in a bid to find out the cause of dementia, it is known that age is a major risk factor in developing dementia so with the growing ageing population, the number of people who develop the condition is expected to rocket in the coming decades.
The Alzheimer’s Society has said that dementia services in Northern Ireland are lacking and greater support for people with the condition would help save millions of pounds each year.
A spokeswoman said: “We would like to see people get better support immediately after diagnosis. Across the whole of the UK, £20bn is spent on crisis care and unnecessary residential care so greater support and better signposting for people upon diagnosis to available services has the potential to save the health service millions of pounds every year.”
The Alzheimer’s Society is holding a flagship ‘memory walk’ on September 26 to raise funds for support services for people affected by dementia.
Wilma McMurray has benefited from such support, which she said has been invaluable after her husband of 47 years Jim was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
She said: “When he was 56, Jim was diagnosed with bowel cancer and he had an operation for it but never really recovered after that. At first they thought he was depressed but then we were told he had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“I knew something was wrong but it was still terrible when we were told. We couldn’t believe it.” Mr McMurray’s condition deteriorated over the years and he now lives at Holywell outside Antrim.
”It was very hard when he first went in because I thought he was only going for a few days but he has been there ever since,” explained Mrs McMurray.
“We were very close throughout our marriage and still are but I don’t think he knows me now. He knows I am someone important but I don’t think he knows who I am.
“I see him most days. I like to go down at lunch time and feed him. I also do his laundry as they’re the only things I can do for him now. He doesn’t speak much now, he says a few words but they don’t mean anything. My husband is there but he isn’t really. Every now and then there is a wee spark and it makes my day when there is.
“Alzheimer’s Society got involved with us in 2001 and I couldn’t have done it without them. Alzheimer’s is such a cruel disease but I go along and meet other people in the same position as me and it helps a lot.”