Addiction to prescription medication and the increasing battle with the isolation of dementia are two of the issues being targeted thanks to a major grants investment announced today by the Big Lottery Fund.
Ballymena Family & Addicts Support Group is one of 13 Northern Ireland organisations awarded grants totalling almost £5 million from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Out: Connecting Older People programme, which supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability or long term illness or who live in residential care or sheltered housing.
The organisation has received £476,710, to introduce support services for the increasing numbers of people battling with addiction, particularly to prescribed medication.
The five year, ‘Let’s Get Together’ project will help raise awareness of this type of addiction which can often be caused by factors such as bereavement, retirement, depression and anxiety.
Ballymena Family & Addicts Support Group’s Interim manager, Heather McClamont said addiction to prescribed medication still remains one of society’s biggest taboos. “Many people in this generation, particularly those affected by the Troubles have been taking drugs for years without realising they are becoming dependent on them.
“Because they are being prescribed by a GP they do not see this as an addiction or a problem until it is too late and then when they try to come off the medications that they experience all sorts of difficulties.”
As well as raising awareness and providing support for those with addiction problems, the centre will also offer alternative coping mechanisms with complimentary therapies, relaxation techniques and sessions on dealing with stress.
Caroline who is in her mid 50’s from Co. Antrim, attends the Support Group regularly and says it has helped transform her live.
“I was first prescribed valium for stress about 20 years ago. Over the years different medications would be added for various things until in the end I was taking a really strong cocktail of strong opiates and tranquilisers.
“As they were all from the doctor I had no idea was an addict. It wasn’t until I started to need more medicine between prescriptions that I realised I had a problem. I was hooked and I didn’t know where to go or how to cope. I tried to do it on my own but things got worse
“The Ballymena Family and Addicts Support Group has been amazing in helping me learn about medication and how to wean myself of it. It isn’t easy and some days are harder than others but their support has made all the difference and it helps just having others to talk to and knowing you are not on your own.”
Age NI has also been awarded £498,803, to create a five year programme to reduce the isolation and loneliness caused by Dementia. The My Life My Way project will work with those in the Northern Trust and Belfast Trust to engage with those most at risk of losing their independence due to the illness.
This boost comes following recent news that Belfast has the highest dementia diagnosis rate in UK.
Linda Robinson Director of Care Services, Age NI said, “The aim of My Life My Way is to make a real and positive difference to the lives of hard to reach older people affected by dementia and their carers.
“A diagnosis of dementia is stressful for any individual especially if they are already experiencing a sense of loneliness or feeling of isolation. When older people go through the care services, they lose important social and emotional connections, and their confidence is knocked. Our experience shows that older people with dementia haven’t got enough information and are poorly supported as they face these major life changes.
“Age NI believes that it is vital that a person’s dignity and voice is at the centre of decision-making regarding what services he or she receives. During these key life transitions, our My Life My Way team will be there to ensure that people with dementia have compassionate person-centred care whether they are at home, in hospital or in a care home.”
Janice Smyth, who cares for her mother and father who both have dementia says the support of Age NI helped her parents stay together and in their own home for longer thanks to their services.
“Age NI helped my family keep our parents in their own home for a much longer period of time and allowed them to participate in various activities and to socialise.”
“They helped maintain a sense of dignity and proved services which we couldn’t really have coped without. I am delighted that they are now extending these services as more people should be aware of them and able to avail of them.”
Frank Hewitt, Big Lottery Fund NI Chair, said: “We are already seeing the really positive impact that the Connecting Older People programme is having on the lives of our most vulnerable older people in Northern Ireland.”
He continued: “The programme is supporting a range of vital projects that are transforming the lives of older people in our communities who are at risk of isolation, depression, mental and physical ill health and low self esteem. Our funding is supporting those older people who need our help the most.”
For more information contact:
Karen Ireland Big Lottery Fund Press Office: 028 9055 1426
Out of hours contact: 07788 640 791