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Dementia counselling for Irish in UK given trial

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Colin Gannon

A new “innovative” counselling service for Irish people in the UK diagnosed with dementia is being launched on a trial basis.

The Solas project, launched by Ashford Place – a charity which helps vulnerable members of the North London community – is in a testing phase.

The service includes 10 weeks of one-to-one counselling for those who have just been diagnosed to “give them a space to process the diagnosis and start thinking about their fears and concerns” as well as a fortnightly support group for their family members or main carer.

The group is co-facilitated with a dementia specialist and a psychotherapist, and, Ashford Place said, “will provide a space for them to think about their feelings, along with activities or materials to help them to build a self-care and services tool kit” to help alleviate the strains of the illness.

“Most people might think that this was a given particularly for such a serious progressive disease but actually I don’t know of any service around the country offering this,” Danny Maher, CEO of Ashford Place, said.

“We know that the main complaint from diagnosed people is that they might receive their diagnosis but then are left to figure out what it all means and to manage all the horrors and anxiety that such a diagnosis evokes in people.”

Maher added that the new service is “a bit like your GP saying you have cancer but you need to go home now as there is nothing for you” but said he hopes that the service will “make life hugely more manageable for a person who receives a diagnosis of dementia and will give them some tools and plans to help them manage their futures.”

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Dancing session at Ashford Place

Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy, a mental health service aimed at members of the Irish community in the UK, is providing the service with a qualified psychotherapist. “It’s good to see Irish charities leading the way in this field of welfare,” Maher added.

Recently, Irish in Britain, the umbrella organisation for Irish charities in the UK, launched a dementia survey among its member organisations, with hopes to “build a picture together of the range of activities and services that Irish community organisations and cultural groups across Britain offer, supporting our community members living with memory loss and carers”.

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They also hope to identify gaps in services and types of support, resources and training that their community members and groups are interested in.

Dr. Mary Tilki, a healthcare researcher and co-founder of the charity Irish in Britain’s memory loss initiative, Cuimhne, told the Irish World last year a wide-range of illnesses – dementia, type-two diabetes, heart disease – are now “amenable to change”.

Only a small number of dementia cases possess “genetic components”, she added.

Mary, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the health of Irish people living in London, commented that remaining socially active can help minimise the risk of social isolation and stave off dementia.

“Keeping socially engaged and getting out and about, meeting friends, can not only keep depression at bay, but can help people to remain mentally stimulated and delay memory loss,” she said.

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