The new Ithaki day care centre in Nicosia is already doing much to help those with dementia, but first months of operation were marred by coronavirus restrictions.
This week Ithaki, the association which runs the centre, held a press conference to introduce their premises on the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Month, the international campaign every September to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.
As with everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has affected operations.
For instance, the two main rooms which host a variety of sessions cannot support as many people as before the Covid-19 epidemic due to restrictive measures, centre scientific Eftychios Christofides told the Sunday Mail.
“Before, each group had eight to 10 people, and there were four groups. Now there are only five to six in each group.”
This means the centre can only support around 20 people at a time. Given that an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people suffer from some form of dementia in Cyprus raises questions as to whether this is enough support.
It is, for now, the coordinator said, and for several reasons. One is that the centre is simply not well-known – at least not yet.
“We haven’t turned away anybody yet, and when there is more demand, more centres will have to open, with the help of the government.”
Another reason is that the centre is not for everybody with dementia, but only for those who can benefit from its programme.
“The criteria are that they can follow the programme and are not at a stage too advanced to respond,” Christofides explained. “We want to stabilise or even improve the patient’s cognitive stage by utilising their functions that remain at a satisfactory level.”
There are of course many others out there which are in desperate need of help, albeit a different type, he clarified.
The holistic programme at this centre aims to empower the sufferers as well as their caregivers.
For this purpose, it employs a psychologist, a social worker, a nurse, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a gymnast and a musician.
Each works with the patient on activities such as memory exercises, therapies through art, board games and learning skills.
The various specialists meet once a week to coordinate their activities and exchange views.
It is important to involve the caregivers as much as possible, and the staff encourages this by talking to them when they arrive to bring the patient, asking how their day has been and if they should know of anything which has happened since the person was last at the day care centre.
Another opportunity to bring patients, caregivers and staff together will be available from October, when a café will open every Wednesday afternoon on the premises, giving them a chance to spend time in a different environment.
Given more money, much more could be done. Excursions are a possibility, but this needs access to a bus. Something which is more feasible and which the administration is looking at now, is to fix the outdoors area, providing every patient with a flower stand to grow plants.
The centre in Nicosia has been operating since February 2020 and is housed in a building provided by the Nicosia municipality. It was renovated by Opap, its main sponsor.
Almost immediately, it was closed due to the coronavirus and did not reopen until June.
Ithaki was founded in 2011 with a vision to be next to every person with dementia and to provide psychosocial support for carers. It started operating a day care centre in Limassol in 2012.
The centre is located at 17 Piraeus Street (side street of Kallipoleos Avenue) Tel: 22-335410, e-mail: [email protected]