THE disappearance earlier in the week of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer in Paphos has prompted a new call both for state help, and an end to the shame and stigma attached to dementia in Cyprus.
Latest figures for Cyprus suggest that dementia now affects 14,000 people over the age of 60. Of these, 9,500 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Many, at least in Paphos, are British expat retirees with no family support.
Cyprus doesn’t currently have a nursing home or full-time care centre for Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers, despite the fact that numbers are increasing and the population is ageing.
Nicosia has the only day care centre which is privately run and looks after 25 patients five days a week. There is another facility at Lythrodontas, open three days a week with space for 12 patients. Currently, Paphos has no facility at all.
Eighty five-year-old Katerina Michael from Anavargos in Paphos has Alzheimer’s and was found alive and well, albeit frightened, on Thursday, after spending almost 24 hours alone and outdoors.
Her distraught family, police and a volunteer search party frantically looked for her all over the town, fearful that she may not be found alive. Her daughter, Maro Mina, told the Sunday Mail that the government must be more proactive and help to raise awareness of dementia.
“My mother has had Alzheimer’s for the last seven or eight years and is also diabetic. We were worried that she may have gone into a coma or may not be alive. The government should do far more and speed up giving out information in such cases.”
Mina said that time is of the essence and one idea is that police should contact telecommunications companies to send SMS messages to mobile phones with information about a missing person.
“This would be helpful and people generally need to be more aware. I have realised how difficult it is to find someone, even in a town, and it is far more difficult in the villages. In rural areas, search parties with dogs should be sent out without delay, as the police usually wait to do this.”
However, she noted that Paphos police and volunteers were very good and had responded immediately.
Mina and her four siblings, along with their children, friends, neighbours and volunteers scoured the town for Katerina for 18 hours, until she was finally found. Although Katerina has ‘visited’ neighbours in the past, she has always remained close by.
“This is the first time my mother has walked out of her house in Anavargos and gone to another area. It happened when the maid was occupied for a moment and she walked a considerable distance to another part of Paphos.”
Various sightings came in of the missing woman but by the time the family arrived, she had vanished. The octogenarian was finally found at 8am the following morning at a residential complex, close to the Tomb of the Kings road.
Mina has recently joined the Paphos Alzheimer’s association and said this has been a great benefit.
The president of the Paphos branch of the Cyprus Alzheimer’s association, Chrystalla Themistokleous, also called on the state for more help, and for an end to the shame linked to the disease in Cyprus. She also said that Cypriots must let go of their beliefs that there is a social stigma attached to the disease.
Themistokleous, who is also the assistant matron at Paphos general hospital, told the Sunday Mail that many Cypriots are ashamed to admit they have dementia or Alzheimer’s. She added that the government are not doing anything to help these patients, and a state care home was urgently needed
“A lot of Cypriots will become a member of the association, but say they don’t want their names listed anywhere. They feel that there is still a stigma attached to having Alzheimer’s and we need to stop that,” she said, “ There really needs to be some form of state help for people.”
Themistokleous understands only too well the challenges facing sufferers and their carers, as she has spent the last 20 years caring for her mother at home. She died just a few weeks ago. “This experience has made me strong and I will use that to look after other Alzheimer patients,” she said.
Dementia is a wider term for a decline in mental ability which interferes with usual daily life and includes memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Many dementias are progressive and it can be very hard for the sufferer and the carer.
Both heart wrenching and frustrating, the condition can cause changes in personality and demeanour and can eventually lead to sufferers ‘slipping away’ with no way of communicating.
Themistokleous said that in the last five years, the number of dementia patients presenting at Paphos general hospital has increased dramatically and that she sees at least 20 patients in a month.
“The really sad thing is that we realised a number of our patients don’t have anyone to look after them. They are mostly English and don’t have children or families and so we are trying to help them.”
In such cases, social services and close friends are alerted in an attempt to help, but this isn’t the answer, she said.
“To set up a state care home would cost a lot of money, but it needs to be done and with enough funds allocated to keep it running. Government money is tight at the moment though and I can’t see this happening in the near future. There would need to be trained nurses, occupational therapists, music therapy and organised activities. Far more needs to be done to educate people about dementia as well,” she said.
The charity has an assistant nurse who provides homecare nursing and advice to carers; they can also supply wheelchairs, walking aids and bedpans, she said.
In an attempt to help people involved with dementia by offering useful information and practical advice, the British High Commission in Cyprus has organised a couple of training sessions on the island, which will get underway during the week.
British Vice Consul, Christina Smith said that the sessions are closed to the public and that key people involved with dementia and Alzheimer’s in Cyprus would be participating.
“We have secured an external trainer from the UK, Sue Brevin, and she trains at Alzheimer’s UK. This is a fantastic opportunity for those involved and the sessions are full.”
Smith explained that the High Commission had bid for money from London and the funds would be used for training sessions in Paphos on Tuesday and in Paralimni on Wednesday.
“Key people such as carers, public organisations, private sector initiatives, social workers, charities, and Alzheimer’s self-help groups have been invited. This is a good step forwards and really needed as there is an increasing aging population,” she said.
Smith said that the British High Commission in Cyprus was aware that there was an increasing number of dementia cases on the island, with some people saying that they were finding out that the support system in Cyprus is not as good as in the UK and other countries.
“There are no state care homes and people need more support in dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If people can’t pay for private homes, it becomes far more difficult to deal with loved ones, and many have to undertake care for them at home. This session will help them to gain understanding,” she said.
Rionagh Walker, is a facilitator at the Alzheimer’s Self Help Group, Paphos, which is run by Sonia Royer, and comes under the auspices of the Paphos branch of the Cyprus Alzheimer’s Association. She said that there is a great need for a day centre for dementia patients in Paphos, and this is something which is currently in the pipeline.
“We are hoping to start up and run a day centre which would be held every Monday at Archangel Hospice in Paphos. It would be of a great benefit to dementia sufferers and their carers,” she noted. There are plans to get the initiative up and running within the next couple of months.
General Manager of the Archangel Michael hospice, Mona Skordi, said that the hospice cares for all terminally ill patients free of charge, and that includes those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. “Some of these people may be our patients in the future.”
Skordi added that many Cypriot families kept dementia patients at home until more recently, as they didn’t have anywhere to take them.
“A day centre is a very important move and it also gives carers some free time to be able to plan things in advance,” she said.
Mina agreed that a day care centre, even one day a week, is much needed; giving carers time to clear their mind, as well as offering a change of scene to dementia sufferers. She added that an organised state facility would be the answer, but doubts that funds would be made available.
“My mother was very active, sociable and kind and it’s hard to see her like this. We hope this never happens again and are giving her a necklace with our contact details on just in case. We would like to thank all of the authorities and volunteers for their help, and as we are beginning to calm down now, we realise more needs to be done urgently by the state.”
President of the Paphos Alzheimer’s Association- Chrystalla Themistokleous- 99 430 187
Alzheimer’s Self Help Group: Sonia Royer 26 621530
Archangel Michael Hospice – Mona Skordi (m) 99 494 140