"When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, at the start, I didn't know what I was doing, what was happening."

A new TV, radio and online advertising campaign to increase understanding and support for people living with dementia has been launched by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, as part of the Dementia: Understand Together initiative.

The launch comes against a backdrop of an estimated 1,929 people living with dementia in County Donegal according to the last available figures from the Central Statistics Office.

There are at least 400 different types of dementia which is caused by different diseases of the brain. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for two-thirds of cases.

According to the HSE, only 1 in 4 of us are confident that we understand dementia. This campaign aims to increase understanding and keep friendships, community and family connections alive, so that more people can live well with dementia.

It saw the unveiling of two new TV adverts telling the stories of Maureen O’Hara and Paddy Butler who have generously shared their experience of living with dementia for the campaign.

Maureen O’Hara, age 57, is one of the two people living with dementia to feature in the first phase of the campaign. For Maureen, who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in 2014, staying connected with neighbours and friends is all-important. This connectivity allows her to live well and independently with the condition:

“For me the diagnosis wasn’t a shock as I had been living it. It was nearly a relief to know. What’s most important for me is being connected with people. It’s about being out there ̶ whether that’s enjoying hill-walking or keeping in touch with neighbours and friends. I don’t like wasting time ̶ rather, I like spending time. It makes my life worthwhile.”

Paddy Butler, age 70, was diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. For Paddy, it was important to be up-front with people about his diagnosis:

“When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, at the start, I didn’t know what I was doing, what was happening. I asked myself do I hide it or do I be straight up? Kilkenny is a small place and I know a lot of people.

“I decided I had to go and face it and to be straight with people. Trying to hide things would have been worse. It should be out there. More people talk to me now than before and everyone says ‘hello’ when I pass by.

“It’s important to show that people with Alzheimer’s can keep going. I like to keep up my interests as best I can. I like to go walking, to go for a cuppa, to go to Nolan Park to support the Cats. You have to live your life.”

The campaign is part of the Dementia: Understand Together initiative, which is led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio.

The campaign is funded by the HSE and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and began in 2015. This new phase of the campaign will run on national television, national and regional radio stations, and digital and social media, and continue until the end of 2018.

The launch of the campaign coincides with the official unveiling of a new “go-to” website for people who want to find out more about dementia – www.understandtogether.ie.

The website features a service finder detailing county-by-county the dementia supports and services available. It also offers a range of training resources for carers, and for businesses and organisations in the retail, transport, public and financial sectors. Support packs, including posters, leaflets and badges, can be ordered also.

For more information on the Dementia: Understand Together initiative, visit www.understandtogether.ie or Freephone 1800 341 341.

Launching the new campaign, Minister Harris said: “The Dementia: Understand Together campaign seeks to raise awareness, increase understanding, and address the loneliness often experienced by people living with dementia and their families.

“We want to open up conversations in homes, workplaces and communities across the country about dementia, increasing understanding and reducing the isolation that people with the condition frequently experience.

“It aims to show that people with dementia can be supported to live well, and that each of us can play our part by maintaining friendships and including people in our shared community life.”

Professor Brian Lawlor, Consultant Psychiatrist and Chair of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, said: “There are an estimated 55,000 people living with dementia in Ireland today and this number is expected to more than double to 113,000 by 2036.

“Half a million people in Ireland have had a family member with dementia, yet we know that despite this widespread experience, only 1 in 4 of us is confident that we understand dementia. According to people living with dementia, fear and uncertainty often leads to friends, family and neighbours feeling awkward or embarrassed, so often they say and do nothing.

“It can leave people with dementia and their loved ones feeling alone. This stigma was reflected in our quantitative research, which shows that close on half of us are unsure we can stay close friends with someone with dementia.”