A project with a holistic theme aims to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s
Date Posted: 29.07.2012
IN 2008 Christy Fleming’s brother Pat was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He was just 54. Pat Fleming had lived most of his adult life in the UK. There were tell-tale signs that all was not well. He was disturbed and confused and phone calls home became less frequent.
Christy Fleming made the decision that Pat could be best looked after in Ireland where most of his family still resided. A purpose-built home was made for him at the back of his sister’s house in Finglas, Dublin.
Like many people affected by Alzheimer’s, the Flemings were confronted with the realisation that there was no cure and precious little treatment for this insidious and progressive condition. “We hear the same stories with Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families throughout the country – the system can’t really do anything for them,” says Christy Fleming.
“They are given medication and told to come back every year or so for check-ups but that’s really it. The Alzheimer’s Society does amazing work supporting families but is badly under-resourced. There’s no actual hope there for families and no formal mechanism to fight back.” While living in the UK, Pat had developed a keen interest in complementary medicine and regularly had massage and reflexology treatments.
Between Christy and Pat the idea was formed to have continuous residential workshops which take a holistic approach with practical everyday tasks to help improve the quality of his life.
Christy Fleming will host the latest of his week-long residential workshops at Slí an Chroí, Kiltegan, Co Wicklow this week.
It aims to provides a dedicated, calm environment with a range of therapies, supports, activities and treatments to counter the effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and allows sufferers to explore their own potential, express their experiences, fears and joys.
All those involved in the programme have 24-hour supervisory care and a personal chef prepares menus based on a rich Mediterranean-style diet of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables healthy oils like olive and coconut, seeds, nuts and berries.
Individual classes include arts and crafts, drama and voice coaching, Reiki, homeopathy, massage therapy, reflexology, emotional freedom techniques, yoga and nature walks.
Fleming pays tribute to the network of therapists who give of their time and expertise so freely. “Some are friends, more are professional colleagues or acquaintances and many have been badgered into doing this by me.
“All are involved because they believe something more can be done for sufferers of what is one of the most prevalent yet little understood diseases in Ireland and all see the results coming through in Pat.”
Fleming said there was an immediate improvement in his brother’s condition after a week on the course. “Every time he comes away with us, he engages with us because we have nothing to do but engage with him.
“We see huge improvements in him every time he gets to do a residential course like this and we try to continue the practices as much as we can back home. His language skills, awareness levels and general ability to interact improve so much and it’s like getting glimpses of the real Pat back more regularly. We’d love to set the project on a more formal footing so that it was available to more patients and their families more often.” Fleming would like to see medical professionals come down to Slí an Chroí to see what they are doing and cast an eye over it.
He said his philosophy is based on a book called The Brain that Changes Itself by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge who maintains that the brain can adapt to cope with neurological disorders if trained properly.
“We know we are making a difference short term. Nobody seems to be doing what we are doing, but we want others to verify that. We’re not claiming any major cures, but we are saying that if you don’t try something then nothing will come of it.”
Fleming says the one thing lacking from their residential programme is continuity of care as patients involved could do with a much longer programme to get the full benefits.
He is hopeful that something positive will come out of a meeting he had with the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin last week. He says Archbishop Martin is looking at ways to assist Christy in providing a more long term option for Alzheimers patients. “He’s very interested in what we are doing,” he says. “This could bring the whole thing to a new level.”
Fleming’s goal is to have a residential programme funded either privately or publicly as part of a holistic programme for treating Alzheimer’s.
In recent years, more creative approaches have been taken to dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. It has been found that contemplating art can have a beneficial impact on those with Alzheimer’s or dementia as does singing.
There has also been a significant breakthrough in conventional treatments with doctors at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York finding that intravenous immunoglobulin, which is normally given to people with immune problems, can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease for three years. However, the treatment will need several more years of clinical trials before it will be available to the general public.
For more information on the Disrupting Alzheimer’s Project, Christy Fleming can be contacted on 086 1045197.
Source : Irish Times Health Supplement, July 24th 2012