AUDREY Campbell has been the face of the Foyle Branch of the Alzheimer’s Society for the last 16 years.
Now as she retires due to ill health she says that a part of her will always belong to the organisation she has helped grow from grass roots.
Appointed as the first manager of the local branch she has helped grow an invaluable service which provides not not only practical help but emotional support for those affected by dementia.
“My own grandmother had Alzheimer’s,” Audrey said. “But in those days it wasn’t really something we talked about. We were just told she was doting and to take her home. There was no information, no advice and no support.
“I suppose that is the way it was for a lot of people.”
When Audrey saw the position with the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society advertised she decided to try and get involved - and it was then she was able to fully understand the issues surrounded dementia.
“There was still a stigma. It was still something people didn’t really talk about. No one used the name Alzheimer’s anyway.
“They were more likely told to put it down to just old age, or ‘doting’ or whatever.
“It was only when we set up the society and set about consulting with families and carers that we saw just what people needed. I suppose that was a learning curve for me as well.”
The first target the society identified was the need for education around the issue of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“We had to go out into the community and talk to people. My own background is in business so once we decided what needed to be done, it was up to me to make sure it got done,” Audrey said.
“The vision, the desire to make that difference, came from a wide group of people - carers, health professionals, families etc - who all saw the very real need for a service such as the Alzheimer’s Society.”
Audrey was soon able to put in place a home sitting service, now known as the Home Respite Service which allowed carers a few hours to get some time to themselves.
She also helped put in a place a monthly support meeting.
“Caring for someone with dementia can be very isolating indeed,” she said, “You can feel alone - and obviously you are devastated to see a loved one develop this illness. The monthly support meetings can be a lifeline for many people.
“Not only do they provide information and support, but also a social outlet.”
Now based at the Sevenoak Fold home in the Waterside, Audrey said the organisation has grown rapidly over the last 16 years.
The strength of the organisation’s success, Audrey is keen to point out, is in the people it employs.
“Each of the team has that unique, personal kind of quality which is needed to work with people with dementia.
“Everything we do has to be person centred. We have to look at the person more perhaps than the illness and it requires a special kind of person to do that, from our sitters to our office staff.
“I feel exceptionally comfortable leaving the organisation in the hands of those who are there now. They are a brilliant bunch - so dedicated. But the time has come where I have had to slow down due to my own health.
“It has not been an easy decision. I have truly loved my time with the Alzheimer’s Society.
“I can say that I went to work every day enthusiastic about what I was doing. I got such a sense of joy from being to help people.”
Audrey, who while originally from Donegal now lives in Drumahoe, said she hopes to still be able to help out at the Society on a voluntary basis from time to time.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to walk away from it, that’s not to say I don’t have total faith in those I leave behind. I wish them all the very best and would like to thank the Alzheimer’s Society for all their support over the years.”
For more information about the Alzheimer’s Society or to avail of their services call 028 71348887.