France Alzheimer: help is out there

MORE than 800,000 people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a number which could double in less than 40 years

8 January 2014

MORE than 800,000 people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia conditions in France, a number which could double in less than 40 years, says the leading charity helping sufferers and their
families, France Alzheimer.

The government has pledged to push ahead with improvements to help for people with the disease, building on a Sarkozy-era, four-year plan which saw new services put in place (see story below).

For those with concerns, the first port of call is their GP, though a diagnosis may take two years from the first appearance of signs.

Medical care related to Alzheimer’s is reimbursed at 100% and there is a range of potential social security benefits such as Allocation Personnalisée d’Autonomie, to help sufferers stay in their own home; disabled person’s cards, allowing benefits such as income tax reductions; and disabled person’s parking cards.

The maisons départementales des personnes handicapées (MDPH), affiliated to the conseil général (departmental council) is a key contact for these.

The France Alzheimer association can give practical advice about such matters, as well as organising activities and social events to help sufferers and families cope better.
It has branches in every department and recently started a weekly English speaking support group in Bergerac, Dordogne.

A volunteer in Bergerac, Chris Grasby, said: “There are any number of groups around the Dordogne, but in Bergerac there are 10 operating weekly for cafés mémoire [to share coffee and a chat], cookery and well-being sessions – a host of things, not just for sufferers but family, friends and supporters too.”

It was a former English teacher, Dominique Lacan, who started their English-speaking group, Mr Grasby said. “People can come along and play some games, have a discussion... and we can talk to carers about difficulties they are facing and help to put people in contact with the right medics and the right part of social services to make sure they get the support they need.”

While the group in Bergerac is so far the only one specifically aimed at English-speakers, he said he would encourage anyone grappling with the disease to contact their local branch.

It can be very difficult for people to come to terms with their condition, he said.
“Often people in the English-speaking community will think of going back to the UK for care, but in times like this that is difficult – houses are hard to sell. If you go to the doctor you will not necessarily be oriented towards the association, and we are keen for people to know what’s available as early as possible.”

While sufferers’ outlook is not bright, a group can offer vital “moral support”, he said. France Alzheimer also offers training for carers. “

It can be very frustrating for them and we help them feel less lonely, isolated and stuck with the difficulty of dealing with someone whose memory is going through the mill.”

The effects of the disease can be especially distressing to expats, he said. “Recently learned things, such as second language skills, are often among the things that sufferers may forget first.
“We can’t necessarily help people regain that lost brain function, but we can get together to talk about it and lighten the burden.”

Nationally, the association’s activities include workshops with art and music therapists, respite care from half-days to several days, and even holidays. More details from Chris Grasby (06 09 21 06 09) or Dominique Lacan (06 98 94 73 04) in Bergerac, or see the association’s main website at www.francealzheimer.org.

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