Leeds Irish taking on the problem of dementia

leeds irish dementia

Leeds Irish Health and Homes launched The Importance of Being Irish: Memory Loss and The Needs of the Irish

A detailed examination of the health and social care experiences of Irish people living with dementia and memory loss in Leeds, The Importance of Being Irish: Memory Loss and The Needs Of The Irish Community, was launched by Leeds Irish Health and Homes (LIHH) last week, writes Anne Geaghan.

The CEO of LIHH, founded in 1996, is Ant O’Hanlon who welcomed The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Gerry Harper, originally from Belfast, and representatives from local council welfare groups, service providers and members of various Irish organisations.

Mayor Harper spoke movingly about his own family’s experience of dementia while Mr O’Hanlon told the audience: “This report is a first. Never before have Irish people’s experiences of dealing with memory loss and dementia been recorded in Leeds.


“Irish emigrants had helped build, clean and nurse the city of Leeds for decades. “Many of them were from a rural background where self-sufficiency and reliance on family were culturally important.” He thanked Leeds Community Foundation and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Government’s Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) for their support.

leeds irish dementia

Dr Mary Tilki spoke about Cuimhne, the Irish Memory Loss Alliance and stressed the importance of culturally sensitive services for Irish people with health problems and their families.

In 2009 Leeds Irish Health and Homes (LIHH) produced a report on the health and social care experiences of older Irish people leading to the creation of the Irish Memory Loss Group (IMLG). It holds a weekly “gathering” at Leeds Irish Centre at which people experiencing memory loss can meet in a comfortable, familiar Irish setting.

The event provides welcome and much needed respite support for carers as well. Many of those attending would have attended dances and other events at the Irish centre over the years. LIHH recently appointed Paula Cox as its Dementia Services Development Manager.

leeds irish dementia

Ms Cox spoke about Aran Care, a new home care service, to be launched later in the year, and which will provide a “culturally sensitive” service tailored to the needs of Irish people with dementia and memory loss to help them regain a feeling of independence for as long as possible. She described this as a “do with” rather than “do for” approach.


The report’s author, Anna Franks, interviewed support workers, volunteers, individuals and couples experiencing or caring for someone with memory loss, all of whom had an Irish connection.

A video made to accompany the report, featured older Irish people – some second generation and one from the Irish Traveller community who outlined her family’s specific needs when caring for her father who had been diagnosed at just 54.

leeds irish dementia

She found Irish people were reluctant to seek social care or medical help at an early stage when dealing with dementia and said “the stoic nature of Irish” people stops them seeking diagnosis and support services.

It found respite support for carers badly needs to be strengthened as does provision for those in the advanced stages of the illness as families deal with issues such as safeguarding, finances, care homes, and more. The audiences had an opportunity to ask questions. It is clear that the importance of cultural touch points such as Irish music, language, faith (recitation of prayers) cannot be over estimated when addressing the specific needs of Irish people affected by dementia.


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