Limerick Dementia Social Club pictured above, set up in 2018, offers support for people with dementia as well as their carers. Founder Mags O’Sullivan pictured above between Mayor Francis Foley and Richard Lynch. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick
Limerick’s Dementia Social Club has been “putting a smile back” on peoples’ faces by providing friendship and support for people living with dementia and their carers and family
By I Love Limerick correspondent Cian Reinhardt
The Limerick Dementia Social Club, set up in 2018, offers support for people with dementia as well as their carers. It was founded by former district nurse Mags O’Sullivan and meets on the first Wednesday of each month and is led by volunteers with a background in health and social care. The club aims to provide a dementia-friendly space for people living with dementia and their carers and family members.
Marie Heffernan, who met Mags O’Sullivan, the club founder, through working as a carer in the community for some years explained she was asked to volunteer when the club was set up.
“There was an elderly lady near where I live that needed to get back out into society, she had dementia, so I started to bring her up as well. So we grew from maybe two or three people, now to maybe 20 or 25,” Marie said.
Speaking about the need to reach out to people living with dementia, and how the social club can help, Marie said, “Dementia can be a very lonely place for people, but it’s very important that these people will know that there is somewhere there for them to go to. And the people, they love it, they love to play cards, play bingo, last night we were doing painting and reminiscing. They also love the exercise and the music.”
An early 2020 study by Alzheimer’s Society in the UK showed that almost one-third of people living with dementia and almost half of carers and family members experienced loneliness, which was heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic which followed.
The Dementia Social Club gives the opportunity for people with dementia and their carers to expand their social circles, as well as providing carers and family members the chance to learn from others.
Pádraig (pseudonym) spoke about his experience caring for his partner who was diagnosed in the last two years explaining how the social stigma around the disease made them feel cut off, “Of course there is a stigma. My wife was working in her job for 27 years, and she is gone out of her job, but we don’t want people thinking ‘oh she’s gone now it’s mental illness’, and she is the most mellow woman you’ll meet in your life.”
Pádraig noted how they “feel like we need to keep it to ourselves for now, hopefully in time, we’ll be able to have our pictures up online at the club, but at the moment I want to keep it to myself, or in that group. Just to protect her more than anything.”
When speaking about the stigma surrounding dementia, Pádraig explained how joining the social club was a big step, not knowing how long they would attend for, but when they got there it “felt like a safe environment”.
“We were told by our HSE support workers about the Dementia Social Club, and our first night there was at the Christmas event. It just felt like a safe environment to go into, everyone was so welcoming,” Pádraig said, describing how “they made us feel special even though we only just joined that first night, they made us feel involved”.
“The social club, for my partner, it puts a smile back on her face and makes her feel needed, it’s a place where she can have a bit of fun. It’s lovely to see a smile on her face and learning new skills,” said Pádraig adding he never heard his wife sing, “to hear her singing along with the songs, it’s brilliant, it’s so relaxing for me to see her letting herself go again.”
Speaking about what the social club has to offer, Marie told I Love Limerick about the opportunity the club gives people to learn from each other, “when people get a diagnosis, they can feel like they’re in no man’s land, you get to have conversations at the club and find out little bits they wouldn’t know they were entitled to, or places they can go, and with my experience, thankfully I can pass information like that on to people there.”
When asked about the average night at the social club, Pádraig said, “The average night up there is just having fun, I see other people there, we get to chat to them. My partner is involved in other clubs, and when we are at those clubs she isn’t really chatting, but up at the Dementia Social Club I see her talking. It’s like we are all on the same level, and she feels relaxed there, there’s nothing better than seeing her smile, it had been so long since I’d seen it.”
The club meets on the first Wednesday of every month at Our Lady of Lourdes Community Centre, no referral is necessary and people can attend on any club night as they wish, the club invited people to “Join us the first Wednesday of every month for a chat, cuppa and fun activity”.
Pictures: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick