Support for those caring for loved ones with dementia

Who do you turn to when a loved one receives a dementia diagnosis? Support for careers is available, as dementia outreach specialist Kelly Barbour tells Joanne Sweeney

There are 20,000 people in the north with dementia but 7,000 of those don't actually have a formal diagnosis
Joanne Sweeney

WHETHER you are a sufferer or a carer, living with dementia can be a bewildering and lonely experience.

It's also one of the potentially biggest life challenges facing people over the age of 60 today. However, there is help at hand for those who need it – if you know where to find it.

Kelly Barbour spearheads a dementia outreach education and training programme for the 3fivetwo Training Academy in association with Dementia Together NI. She is helping to get the important message of support across in a series of information evenings and carer training events.

Dr Carol Mullan from Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn will be the specialist dementia doctor at the Training Academy's free information evening on Thursday August 31, at their premises at 10 Falcon Way, Boucher Road, Belfast.

From 6.30pm until 8.30pm there will also be representatives from the Alzheimer's Society, Dementia Together NI, Dementia NI and the Bryson Group on hand to provide practical advice and guidance to carers.

Kelly says: "We at 3fivetwo Training Academy have organised ourselves because at the moment there are 20,000 people in the north with dementia but 7,000 of those don't actually have a formal diagnosis.

"At one of our last information events, an older gentleman in his late 80s or 90s, came along to get advice for his wife, who he thought had dementia – but it actually turned out that he also had dementia.

"We were then able to get him a dementia navigation pathway from the South East Health and Social Care Trust to get him referred.

"The first step for anyone with dementia, or who are worried that they might have dementia, is going to their GP. That starts the ball rolling to get the specialist help that they need and essentially to live an independent life as long as possible, which is what we all should be aiming for."

However, Kelly acknowledges that it might be harder for those who live alone to recognise the symptoms that indicate dementia, such as problems with orientation, judgement, perception and understanding, memory, decision-making and the ability to learn and communicate.

"You just have to hope that for those who do live on their own that they are still engaging at some level with the community, for instance going to a shop or talking to a neighbour,” adds Kelly.

"That's why there is a real emphasis now on making communities dementia-friendly so that local businesses and the community are more aware of how to be aware of people with dementia, as there can be a real fear in engaging with people.

"Many don't really have the understanding of how to reach out or what to say to someone with dementia."

She says that the majority of the carers that she comes into contact with are women caring for relatives, both male and female, who are living with dementia.

"Careers are mostly daughters of sufferers, spouses or neighbours" says Kelly.

"There are still a lot of people out there who are waiting for assessments or have worries that they are showing symptoms. Coming along to the evening like this is just an easy way of coming to pick up some information and take it away, without them having to disclose they have dementia.

"It's a welcoming and open space for people and we have found that many carers then go on to take part in our training and support sessions."

The Training Academy also has the contract to provide training for informal carers throughout the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust area and a new six-week series of free training events will be held in Bangor, Newtownards, Downpatrick, Lisburn and Newcastle from September 19 to December 7.

"These courses are part of the overall dementia initiative for the north and funded by the executive, Public Health Agency and The Atlantic Philanthropies," adds Kelly.

"However, while we are delighted to be running them again this autumn, we don't know what next year's funding will mean so we would advise carers and family members to take the opportunity now as our feedback from past participants has been excellent."

The course is broken down into six themes for carers, covering; what dementia is and its different forms; legal and financial considerations and support; learning to manage from the carer's perspective; communication and how to deal with the sufferer's change in behaviour and to recognise triggers; focusing on the health and wellbeing of the sufferer, with a final round-up of all the subjects covered.

:: To register your interest in next week's information evening or to register for the upcoming training courses, contact Kelly Barbour on 028 9073 5273 or email

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