Page last updated at 00:48 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

A life with Alzheimer's - one man's story

Ian Travers
Ian Travers was diagnosed at just 62 years old

Almost 16,000 people in Northern Ireland live with a diagnosis of dementia. That number is expected to treble by 2050.

BBC NI Spotlight reporter Declan Lawn talks to dementia sufferers and the people who care for them. He asks what health care plans will be in place for the future.

As he travelled around the UK for his job as a commercial salesman, Ian Travers never suspected that there was anything wrong with his memory.

But when he returned from his frequent trips, his wife Mary began to worry that something was not right.

"He would have come home on a Thursday night and I would pick him up at the airport and invariably he would have forgotten something coming back," she said.

"One week, he came without his suitcase - he had left it behind."

For months, Ian's family put his new-found absent-mindedness down to stress at work.

His daughter Sarah, who as a BBC Newsline presenter is a well-known face in Northern Ireland, noticed that not only was her father's memory deteriorating, but his behaviour was changing too.

The crisis came in the summer of 2008. Ian and Mary took a holiday to Spain, and whilst they were away, Sarah received a phone call from her mother that would change her family's life forever.

"I just couldn't believe it when she said: 'We are going to have to leave Spain, there is something very wrong with your dad. He doesn't seem to know who I am…'"

Within weeks, Ian was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was just 62.

Today, two years later, family life has changed completely - yet Ian feels lucky. He has responded well to drugs which inhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer's and still plays sport and goes out walking.

Sarah Travers
BBC Newsline presenter Sarah Travers is Ian's daughter

His advice to other people worried about serious memory lapses or behavioural changes is to go to their GP sooner than he did, and talk to close family and friends about what they might have noticed.

"I was daft enough not to think there was anything wrong," he tells the BBC's Spotlight programme.

"When Alzheimer's arrived at our door, it changed our family and changed our lives. But it has brought us closer together and we are just so keen and eager to support dad and help him through what is going to be a difficult future," Sarah says.

There are almost 16,000 people in Northern Ireland living with a diagnosis of dementia. It's predicted that number will treble by 2050.

Tuesday night's Spotlight programme hears directly from dementia sufferers and the people who care for them about how they are coping. It also looks at the state of dementia care in Northern Ireland

As Health Minister Michael McGimpsey prepares to launch a new draft strategy to deal with dementia, do we have the resources and understanding to deal with massive increases in the number of people with dementia in Northern Ireland?

That is what is worrying Professor Peter Passmore - one of the world's foremost experts on dementia and Alzheimer's who is based at Queen's University in Belfast.

"I think that people maybe have not been taking this as seriously as they should and they are thinking 'mañana' - so tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. This is not round the corner. This is very much upon us," he said.

Watch Spotlight's "Living with Dementia" on the BBC's iPlayer (UK only)

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