Sharon Fitzpatrick is manager of Age NI's specialist dementia service located in Twin Spires, Belfast which provides care to older people who wish to remain in their own home.
Dementia is a progressive decline in mental state that over time may affect a person's ability to communicate, carry out everyday tasks, or to remember and understand basic things like names or places. It is caused by various conditions and takes many forms. Most people we care for are over 65, however a small number are much younger.
I work with a team of 19 care workers who support people living with dementia, and their families, in the Greater Belfast area. A service like ours, that provides help at home, is essential to ensuring that as much normality as possible is maintained in their daily lives. I feel that we are, quite literally, making later life the best it can be. Often the burnout of families and carers of people with dementia is a major concern, and although home based care is best, there are times when families need additional support.
What motivates me most about the job is the love and devotion that I see on a daily basis from families who care for their loves ones at home - it's staggering. Dementia can often strip a person of their very essence, but it’s not all sadness and heartache. We have fun, reminisce and there’s lots of laughter. The moments of clarity are most gratifying.
On one visit to a one-time All Ireland Boxing Champion, we took him to a local gym. His eyes just lit up when he saw the boxing equipment. He was a young man again. It's precious moments like this that remain in our hearts and remind us that the person we are caring for is still 'in there'.