Address by Minister Máire Hoctor at the Alzheimer Society of Ireland’s Conference “Towards a Voice: 25 Years of Dementia Care and Advocacy

21 September 2007

Introduction:
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome you all here on the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Day to the Alzheimer Society’s annual conference, “Towards a Voice: 25 years of Dementia Care and Advocacy”. I would like to thank Mr Maurice O’Connell for his kind invitation and to congratulate the organisation on its Silver Jubilee celebrating 25 years providing services to people with dementia, their carers and families.

Economic and Social Progress:
One of the greatest achievements of western societies in the last century has been the opportunity provided to the majority of citizens to live to a healthy old age. Economic and social progress and improved health services have combined to reduce premature mortality. There are approximately 450,000 people over the age of 65 in Ireland, the vast majority of whom are fit, healthy and living independent and full lives. However, this is unfortunately not the case for all older people. Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease:
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is one of the most distressing conditions facing the older person. It is, for the most part, a progressive and incurable condition in which brain function deteriorates causing impairment of memory, disorientation and gradual loss of skills.

As a consequence, people lose their independence and require help from others in the basic tasks of self-care. While dementia is not solely related to age, it does affect 5% of people over 65 years with the figure rising to 20% over 80 years of age.

Government Policy:
There is a complementary link between Government policy in the area of the care of older people and in 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.

This Government has made services for older people a priority. We are committed to supporting older people to live in dignity in their own communities, for as long as possible with the support of their families and community support services.

However, when this is no longer an option, it is equally important that older people have access to the best possible residential care available.

Over the last few years there has been extensive analysis of how best to develop a fairer and more equitable means of supporting older people in residential care. The new Nursing Home support scheme will ensure that care is affordable for all and that there is the same level of support for public and private nursing home residents.

It means that older people will not have to sell or re-mortgage their home during their lifetime in order to pay for their own care. It also means that their children will not have to meet the costs, and that they can plan ahead secure in the knowledge that an equitable, affordable system is there for them should they need it.

Funding:
Last year, we funded the largest ever expansion in services for older people with a full year cost of €150m. This year, we have gone a step further, with a full year package of €255m. In two years we have added over €400m to services for older people, including care for people with dementia.

Further reflecting the emphasis this Government places on home and day care, €82m of this year’s budget will fund additional community based supports including:

This Government and the social partners have agreed to work together to develop an infrastructure of long-term care services for older people, responding to the demographic trends facing the country. The principles informing the development of policy in this area are set out in the National Agreement Towards 2016.

Advocacy:
The focus of today’s conference is to create a greater understanding of the various forms of advocacy in dementia care. The Society’s experience over the years is that many people with dementia and their carers struggle with a multitude of service providers to access their entitlements. The Society currently fulfils its advocacy role in an informal, unstructured way but feels that this is not the most effective or efficient use of its resources.

Today’s conference will provide an excellent forum for healthcare professionals, policy makers and service providers to address this and other dementia care issues.

Conclusion:
In conclusion I would like to commend the Alzheimer Society of Ireland for 25 years of hard work, dedication and perseverance in their goal to ensure that those suffering with dementia, their carers and families, have the necessary supports and services to enable them to maximize their quality of life, while respecting their needs and rights as individuals.

The Society are constantly striving to further their understanding of the needs of people with dementia, their carers and families. All involved can be proud of what they have achieved and I have every confidence that the Society will continue to educate, support and improve the quality of life of those with dementia, their families and carers for many years to come.