I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter on the Adjournment today. As Members know, dementia is an umbrella term for a group of conditions which cause brain cells to die. Alzheimer's disease is the most commonly known form of dementia and is a condition which has a potentially devastating impact on the cognitive, emotional and physical life of the affected person and poses enormous challenges for their families. Dementia is progressive in its nature, but thankfully in some cases the progression can be slow and because of this the person can often live independently and with dignity in his or her local community with a range of supports. It is also important to note that while dementia is usually a condition of older age it is not part of the normal aging process.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland reported recently in its pre-budget submission that there are currently 44,000 people with dementia in this country and they predict that this will rise to more than 100,000 over the next 25 years. There are estimated to be approximately 50,000 carers of people with symptoms of dementia at present but when one adds in the number of other family members who assist and whose lives are affected by this condition, it represents one of the most serious challenges to the health care system in this country and is worthy of detailed consideration and prioritisation by the Members of Dáil Éireann and the Government.
I attended the launch of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland pre-budget submission some time ago and I was struck particularly by the testimony of the daughter of a person with dementia. She described in heartrending detail the progression of the illness which her mother endured and how it came to affect her own health in a serious way as well. That presentation prompted me to request this debate today.
The Government should give serious consideration in the forthcoming budget to the following four key points made by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. First, protection should be given to the current funding level of €14.61 million for the community services provided by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland nationally. This would help to sustain the basic level provision of day care service, carer support groups, social clubs for carers and persons with dementia, and the Alzheimer's disease national helpline to current service users. Second, the current levels of service should be extended to the 1,000 people on waiting lists throughout the country at an additional cost of € 4.6 million. Third, the 4,400 younger people with dementia who currently have little or no support structure or services should have a regional case management service to assist, post-diagnosis, in accessing entitlements, services and information. This would cost €350,000. Fourth, a public campaign promoting risk reduction and prevention of dementia in the general public should be organised and supported. This would cost €250,000.
I believe that there are compelling reasons to designate dementia as a national health priority. A national dementia strategy would enable the formulation of a strategic and fully co-ordinated response to meet the needs of people with dementia and their carers. It is an extremely worthwhile objective and I ask that the Government consider this matter carefully and sympathetically when framing budget 2011.