Dementia describes the group of symptoms caused by the gradual deterioration of brain cells leading to the progressive decline of functions such as memory, orientation, understanding, judgement, calculation, learning, language and thinking (Luengo-Fernandez et al, 2010). There is no single cause of dementia, with a combination of risk factors, both known and unknown, believed to influence its onset and progression. Within this risk-factor profile, increasing age is by far the strongest contributor, with the prevalence nearly doubling every five years from the age of 65 onwards (Lobo et al, 2000). The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for approximately 60% of all cases (Luengo-Fernandez et al, 2010). Dementia is a particularly debilitating condition as it affects those capabilities on which everyday life depends. Given the diverse nature of the illness, people with dementia require a wide range of formal health and social care and informal care services. Such services are delivered in a variety of settings, including hospitals, residential care settings or the person's home, and by a variety of providers, such as health and social care professionals, family members, and friends. Unfortunately, services for people with dementia in Ireland have lagged behind both need and demand and the concern is that austerity conditions will exacerbate an already-difficult situation for people with dementia and their families (Cahill et al, 2012).
The impact of dementia is substantial, affecting both the individuals and their carers on personal, emotional, financial and social levels. The cost of caring for people with dementia worldwide was estimated at US$604 billion in 2010 (Wimo and Prince, 2010), which included the costs of informal care provided by unpaid family members and others, social care provided by community care professionals and in residential home settings, and health care provided in primary and secondary medical facilities. Costs are likely to increase in the future given the ageing profile of the global population; the number of people with dementia worldwide is expected to grow from an estimated 36 million in 2010 to 66 million by 2030 (Wimo and Prince, 2010). It is no wonder, therefore, that many countries are already preparing for the projected rise in the number of people with dementia by putting in place dedicated action plans and/or dementia strategies.