People across Northern Ireland are being urged to ‘put Alzheimer’s Society on their Christmas list’ as the charity seeks to ensure no one affected by dementia goes without the support they need over the festive season.

The charity has led the way in highlighting the devastating impact lockdown has had on those with the condition and their families.

And it is at the forefront of a campaign to end restrictions that have prevented family members from hugging, or even holding hands with, loved ones living with dementia in care homes.

Alzheimer’s Society is calling for the ‘Care Partner’ model announced in September, to be finally rolled out across all of Northern Ireland’s Care Homes, giving access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and rapid regular testing to facilitate these essential visits in a safe way.

This acknowledges the vital role families often play in caring for loved ones in care homes, from assisting them with tasks such as eating and drinking to helping them articulate their needs, which can prove critical.

The charity’s dedicated army of expert Dementia Support Workers in Northern Ireland are preparing for what could be their busiest ever festive period as people continue to struggle with isolation and loneliness, due to the current restrictions.

Dementia Support Workers in Northern Ireland offer a personalised support service for people affected by dementia and provide advice, information and can connect people to other local services.

Bernadine McCrory, Country Director for Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland, said:

Since lockdown began in March, Alzheimer’s Society’s vital support services have been used more than 2.7 million times and are proving to be a lifeline for thousands.

More than a quarter of all coronavirus deaths have been people living with dementia, making them the worst-hit by the pandemic. Many more are isolated from social contact, essential health and care support which is why we need people to donate to our Christmas Appeal so anyone struggling will have a Dementia Support Worker on hand when they need them.

Your support could help make sure no one faces dementia alone. Donating is easy – simply visit alzheimers.org.uk

Harry and Vi Filmer, from Bangor, County Down, have accessed services such as one to one dementia support and Singing for the Brain from Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland.

Vi, who is 73, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in Jan 2020, and due to the COVID-19 restrictions her speech has significantly deteriorated. However, Alzheimer’s Society have been supporting the couple and their family since the diagnosis.

Harry, Vi’s husband, has found the help they have received from Dementia Support Worker Lynda Williams ‘invaluable’.

Harry said: “It was a massive shock when Vi got her diagnosis. We have been married for 54 years and were childhood sweethearts. The support we have received from Lynda and Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland, has been amazing. COVID-19 has sadly had a dramatic impact on Vi as she is not getting the face to face stimulation which is so needed for people with dementia.

Lynda is a great asset to Alzheimer’s Society and so personable and professional. I really can commend the whole team. The support is invaluable, and all the Alzheimer’s Society team are so engaged with people who are affected by dementia. We still access Singing for the Brain via Zoom every week which we really enjoy and is continuing to help Vi.”

Harry and Vi have raised money for Alzheimer’s Society in the past by arranging a Your walk, Your way memory walk. Harry also arranged a concert to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Society in May but this was cancelled due to COVID-19. The couple also have two daughters.

The charity’s next major fundraising activity will be a star-studded virtual ‘Carols at Christmas’ event on Thursday 17 December, hosted by Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan and featuring readings from actor Jonathan Pryce, actress Lesley Manville and Sir Trevor McDonald.

Pop group Scouting for Girls will sing their version of Wham’s Last Christmas. Also performing will be 80-year-old musician Paul Harvey.

Paul, who has dementia, made headlines around the world when a video of his composition, Four Notes, was viewed millions of times. The song has since been released with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra as a charity single.

Taking part in the virtual event, which begins at 6:30pm, is free. However, Alzheimer’s Society is asking audience members to consider making a donation to support its vital work. To register or for further information, visit alzheimers.org.uk

Anyone affected by dementia can access information or advice through Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line seven days a week on 0333 150 3456. Its website (alzheimers.org.uk) and online community Talking Point are available 24/7.