Before the Minister and the Ministers of State leave, I congratulate everyone who was reappointed.
Dementia is a deeply distressing condition for those suffering from it and for their families. It presents a significant and growing challenge to health and social services. As our population ages, the number of people with dementia will increase. Progressive increases in investment towards support for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease will be required in the years ahead.
Supporting the provisions of disabled persons' parking cards, also known as European parking cards or disabled parking badges, for dementia and Alzheimer's disease suffers would make such a difference to their lives.
The World Health Organization has described dementia as one of the most serious social challenges facing the world today. Currently, a total of 55,000 people are living with dementia in Ireland and over 5,000 people have early onset Alzheimer's disease. Many more of them still drive, thankfully.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has made the point that the majority of people with dementia, over 63%, live in the community and wish to continue to live at home as a first option.
Insufficient provision for home help and home care packages channel people to long-term care causing the institutionalisation of people with dementia. However, people with dementia prefer to remain living at home for as long as possible. With the right supports, this is possible for the majority of the people concerned.
We should not underestimate the difference we can make by implementing simple measures, such as issuing parking cards, that would make life easier for those struggling as the illness takes hold. The proposal is simple but practical. It would be a step in the right direction and Ireland could be a world leader for dementia care and support. Everyday challenges differ for people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Small things can make a major difference. People are living longer and will need more supports as they age.
In 2014, the National Assembly for Wales passed the Disabled Persons (Badges for Motor Vehicles) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014. The regulations allow those with a cognitive impairment, that is, people who cannot plan and follow the route of a familiar journey, to be eligible for a blue badge as of January 2015. The regulations do not give automatic entitlement to a blue badge. According to the blue badge scheme criteria in Wales, a person needs to provide a letter of support from a relevant health care professional explaining the diagnosis.
I am calling for a change in the criteria such that people with dementia can be eligible to apply for the disabled person's parking card based on an assessment by their general practitioner to verify the need. This will help to resolve the difficulties faced by people with dementia and their families in carrying on activities of daily life. Activities that many of us take for granted, like visiting the shop or attending GP appointments, can become physically challenging and the associated journeys can be daunting for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I hope the Government will consider this change in order that people are able to continue doing the things they enjoy and maintain their independence for far longer.
People with dementia have the right to maintain their independence and to remain and be active in a familiar environment linked to their communities. To do this, they need access to supports that reflect the complex and changing needs of the condition.
The disabled parking permit scheme was born out of a basic necessity to maintain independence for people in Ireland living with a permanent disability, medical condition or severe mobility difficulties, as well as for people who are registered blind, whether they are drivers or passengers. A person with a disability requires access to a disabled parking bay because of access to amenities and facilities. Accessible parking bays are located near amenities for people to access work, education, public transport, post office, shops, banks or social events as well as hospital appointments.
I am aware of a lady who dropped her husband off at the door of the hospital while she went to park. Her husband suffers from dementia. When she got back to the hospital door, her husband was missing. Luckily, with the help of the Garda, she found him a mile and a half away. The man could have walked out in front of a lorry or car. He was simply not capable of managing on his own.
The value of these cards cannot be underestimated. Their availability supports people's right to inclusion. European parking cards can be used by disabled people within the European Union and are recognised in the United States and Canada also. This means when people travel abroad, they can bring their cards with them. Extending the scheme would ensure independence dignity and choice for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, as well as their carers.