When Belfast pensioner David McMillen’s late wife Kathleen was in hospital with dementia, he had a chance meeting in the ward with two men who were going through exactly the same experience.
When David started to attend the Age NI day centre at Skainos in east Belfast, it changed his life.
The two pals he met in hospital, who are sadly since deceased, both went to the Age NI day centre and urged David to join them. It had a huge impact on him at a time when he was struggling to cope.
'Dementia affects everyone and everything,' he says. 'When you go through something like that, it can be very difficult. Although it was my wife who was living with dementia, everyone around her was affected, too. It was a very isolating time.
'It's hard to put into words how you feel, or to explain it to other people who aren’t in the same place.
'When I met Liam and George that was a bit of turning point for me. They were dealing with the same things that I was. They understood what I was going through.
'At the time, they were both going to an Age NI day centre. They found it a welcome respite from everything else, and a much needed opportunity to get out of the house and meet other people. They encouraged me to do the same.
'You don’t realise how cut off you can get when someone close is ill. You’re too busy worrying and caring about them.
'Over time though, your routine changes, slowly but surely, and suddenly you don’t have the same network around you.'
David says that he feels much luckier than many older people he knows because he has an extended family, but realises that it is unrealistic to expect them to be there 24 hours a day.
'That’s just life. That’s why the day centre is so important to me and everyone else,' he adds.
'It's full of friendly faces. It’s the craic and banter we have over a cup of tea or playing a game of pool.
'Living on your own can be hard, but the day centre is full of people just like me who enjoy the company.
'I made two great friends the day I met Liam and George and thanks to them I’ve made many more since. They have both sadly passed away, Liam very recently, and I miss them both. With their help I got through a difficult time.
'The day centre feels like a second family. There might be days you come in grumpy, but you always leave with a big smile on your face. And at the end of the day, we all need people in our lives to make us smile.'
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Text LONE355 to 70070 to donate £5 to help Age NI provide companionship, advice and support to older people facing later life alone in Northern Ireland or donate online.