Dementia charity sees rise in client calls
The number of emergency calls involving people with dementia has risen during the Covid-19 crisis, a charity for sufferers and their caregivers has warned.
Action on Alzheimer's and Dementia, which has stopped its usual programmes for the “foreseeable future” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, said its members had suffered because of the change in routine and the need to stay at home and practise social-distancing.
Elizabeth Stewart, the founder and president of the charity, said: “Those with dementia thrive on consistency, routine, engagement and social connection, which has been significantly limited in most cases.”
She added: “Caregivers are beginning to burn out under the sudden weight of providing 24/7 care without previously available community support services.”
“Simple strategies such as going for a drive, walks on the beach, or visiting a favourite restaurant have not been possible and we see the strain that this is causing on those we serve.”
However, Ms Stewart said AAD had launched a daily online programme for patients, a virtual weekly support group for caregivers and still provided emergency services, as well as check-in telephone calls.
Marie Fay, AAD's occupational therapist, provides at-home assessment and care for patients and dementia care training for relatives in normal times. But she said the work had to stop over the shelter-in-place regime, although she was granted an exemption from the Government to make emergency visits.
Ms Fay added: “There have been several cases where the police have been called because someone has become agitated within the home environment or the family has told them they can't go out. I was able to go and see those people in person.”
She said one situation involved a man with dementia who became “angry and abusive” towards his elderly wife because she tried to restrict his movements.
Ms Fay added: “We sat in his garage for two hours. I was able to engage with him. It's helping with de-escalation in the moment and having that side conversation with the wife about how to handle it.”
She said another family was granted an exemption by police from shelter-in-place rules for their mother so she could continue her normal routine of wandering the streets.
Ms Fay explained: “Obviously for her it would be more distressing to be locked within the home environment and more distressing to the family to have to do that. It's all about degree of risk. That's a big part of what I help families work through.”
Ms Fay added: “My concern, as a provider, is that I just see things escalating for this population the longer this goes on.”
She said: “The majority of people do have some extended social support, whether it be a child that lives on island or a neighbour that's particularly involved. Even that has been challenging for people because the whole social network has changed. People are working from home and trying to home-school their kids. They have so many balls in the air. “
Ms Fay added the priority was to minimise the spread of Covid-19 and “ensuring clients and families and caregivers are adhering to the government protocol, but we are also having to look at what long-term impact this will have on people's mental health.”
She said she could now visit clients who had been screened for the coronavirus for short sessions, but many families were too worried about elderly relatives catching Covid-19 to allow her into homes.
She added: “I think sometimes they are so focused on keeping people physically safe that they underestimate how damaging it can be for someone's psychosocial wellbeing.
“Ultimately, it's down to the client and family and we are here to support them, no matter what they decide.”
Ms Fay said she wore personal protective equipment when she visited clients, but that “it's difficult, I don't want to scare them. It's less personal”.
She added visits were now shorter because of the coronavirus risk and she could not see clients in care homes as visitors were still banned.
AAD's new online programme on Zoom has replaced daily sessions at the Peace Lutheran Church and St Paul's Church, both in Paget, and at the Windreach outdoor centre for the disabled in Warwick.
The Zoom programme includes music and art therapy, quizzes, puppetry and karaoke, and the number of participants was growing.
Ms Fay said: “The majority have a degree of social support. Some live at home, but the child will opt to visit at 11 every day so they can help them set up the system. We have a handful of people who live alone who, through repeated practice — we called them every day — can now log on.
“New learning is very difficult for people with dementia.”
She added: “I was blown away by how well received it has been.”
Ms Fay said some seniors could not access the programme because they had no computer or other device or lacked an internet connection, but that she was drawing up a proposal to send to community groups and corporate sponsors to try to help them.
She added: “They are our most vulnerable population. They are going to be the last to get back to normal. A lot of them are very fearful.”
Weekly online sessions for caregivers are held on Sundays.
AAD, which started in 2012, has more than 300 members, including clients with dementia, their carers and professionals in the field.
Bermuda Alzheimer's & Memory Services last week highlighted the risk to seniors with memory problems posed to the shelter-in-place regulations after the body of Robert Douglas, an Alzheimer's disease sufferer who went missing over the lockdown, was found at Elbow Beach in Paget on April 28.
Beams, based in Hamilton, estimated there were about 2,000 people with dementia in Bermuda. It was reported in the UK last week that people in England with dementia were among those most at risk of dying after contracting Covid-19.
NHS England figures showed that 18 per cent of people who died after they came down with Covid-19 — 4,048 people — had dementia.
• For more information on AAD's free online services call 707-0600 or e-mail email@example.com