Responding to the challenges of dementia

My name is Mary Gaughran. And i have been involved with the birches family for the past 15 plus years as the secretary of the management committee and the north louth branch ASI. Most of you will not be aware that The Birches story began in a sitting room in this redemptorist monastery 18 plus years ago where each month a group of people met to support oneanother as they cared for their loved ones with dementia.

From within that group one unique lady succeeded in forming the north louth branch alzheimer society of ireland and through sheer persistence encouraged a special fundraising group to set their sights on the mammoth project of building an alzheimer day centre in dundalk. That committee were totally dedicated and determined to achieve this goal.

With great joy on june 1st 2000 and thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the people of north louth The Birches opened its doors to care for people suffering from dementia in north louth. The Birches is called a day centre or a club that has at its heart the person suffering from dementia. In this place called The Birches life is a shared experience. There is laughter and song and living in the moment.

Dementia is the name given to a range of conditions that cause damage to the brain and alzheimer’s is the most common cause. When a diagnosis of dementia visits a family it brings with it shock, anger, denial, fear and in some cases relief but above all great sadness. The disease is both challenging, frightening and if you let it isolating. Each persons experience with dementia is unique , but always remember you are not alone.

It is essential that you get the courage to look for support quickly after the diagnosis as early intervention can help keep the disease at bay. And you also need to learn not to be afraid to ask for help.for those among us who are starting out this journey called dementia there is a positive change in our community to make that journey more bearable.

From my voluntary experience and especially as a carer on hearing the words dementia/alzheimers’s as the diagnosis i know how much courage you require and how deep you need to dig to cope with the changes and struggles that lie ahead. Some family and friends may head for the hills on hearing the words—the diagnosis is dementia. This is due to the fact that they feel the person is now changed.

Their reaction is understandable as most people do not know how to respond and need reassurance that you are still the same person. Most people with dementia can continue to live a fairly normal life doing many of the things they always did.

The Birches is only a red bricked building at the back of the louth hospital on priorland road but inside that building its essence contains the stories of all our families who have stepped over the threshold and allowed us the privelege of accompanying them in their journey called dementia and we stay with them as dementia removes them further away.

All who attend The Birches for whatever reason are uniquely welcomed by olive and her excellent carers into The Birches family and remain part of that family for as long as you wish. My advice would be to commence your journey by a visit to The Birches where for past 15 years support is offered, a listening ear is gladly given, as is guidance for your journey with dementia and a safe and caring haven is assured if your loved one needs to be cared for in the centre at a later date.

I cannot praise sufficiently the support group who meets the first tuesday of each month in The Birches. --there you will meet other family carers who are at different stages of the dementia journey. Each person present help oneanother to cope and this group have now become advocates for people with dementia. Persistence and persverence is their and our motto.

Over the years The Birches services have expanded and the cooley penninsula attends The Birches @ Rath Abbey, Grange each monday. Now we all work in close harmony with the netwell centre, the health board, the lourdes hospital, and louth age action among other agencies. A memory cafe is another support recently set up by the netwell centre. It takes place third wednesday of each month in the ruby vintage style tea room, frances street,-6-8pm with a guest speaker each night.

Without the extraordinary generosity of the people of north louth The Birches services would not exist. You built The Birches and continue to ensure that our services are maintained by your financial support. I gratefully take this opportunity both personally and on behalf of all attached to The Birches family both past and present to thank each of you, the redemptorists fathers in dundalk,and everyone who in any way have heped us on our journey over the past 15 plus years.

I ask you to please continue to support and pray for us in our challenging work in the birches as we daily ask the lord to grant each of us the serenity to accept what we cannot change. When the diagnosis of alzheimer disease came to my home, there was great sadness and silence for two weeks. Then my beloved brendan said to me –“mary we cannot change the diagnosis, this is how we will cope-best foot forward and we will take one day at a time” as tomorrow may never come.

To conclude i will quote from the alzheimer prayer:

Pray for me, i was once like you and please pray for those who love and care for me too.