COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on people with dementia, their families, and carers, new research from the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) has found.
The findings show that the current crisis has led to an increase in cases of isolation, loneliness, anxiety and fear among those with dementia and their carers.
Furthermore those with dementia are displaying more behaviours such as agitation, paranoia and delusions.
According to ASI chief executive, Pat McLoughlin, "there was a crisis in dementia care in Ireland long before COVID-19, but now it's unthinkable what people with dementia and their carers are going through, with no access to vital key supports and services".
"This research reveals the true impact of COVID-19 on already vulnerable people in our communities. There is a real sense of fear, anxiety and isolation out there and people are crying out for support at this desperate time. Everyone's lives have been turned upside down during this health crisis, but people with dementia are particularly vulnerable here," he commented.
The research included the views of 160 people with dementia, family carers and ASI dementia advisors. It revealed that 73% of people with dementia feel that they need some support at the moment, with most requiring emotional supports, such as regular telephone check-ins, or practical support, such as shopping.
Some 77% of family carers also said they need supports, including emotional supports, such as peer support, and practical supports, such as shopping and information.
Meanwhile, the Alzheimer National Helpline is experiencing an increase in calls, with almost 1,500 service users getting in touch in the first three months of this year. Some 410 people contacted the service in the month of March alone.
The helpline has seen a jump in enquiries in relation to three main areas:
-Responsive behaviours - some people with dementia have become increasingly more confused and paranoid, and are experiencing an increase in agitation and sleep disturbances
-Main carers - they are looking for more support and reassurance on how best to support their loved ones who are self-isolating and cocooning. Many of the carers themselves are experiencing stress and burnout as they now have no support and are caring 24 hours a day
-Practical support - many people living with dementia do not understand the current situation. For example, they may refuse to wash their hands regularly or ignore social distancing if out.
In the case of social distancing, dementia advisor for Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, Maeve Montgomery, offers some good advice here.
The ASI has reassured people that it is continuing to support those with dementia, and their families and carers. A number of its services are still running, including home care, dementia advisors, the helpline and online family carer training.
Furthermore, it is developing new ways of providing supports remotely to clients and their families, such as regular telephone calls and activity packages for people to use in their own homes.
For example, in the last five days, ASI staff have made almost 1,700 calls to clients or their carers, 715 calls to family members and 144 follow-up calls to public health nurses.
Mr McLoughlin also pointed out that the diagnosis of people with dementia "does not stop due to COVID-19".
"It is increasing all the time with 30 new cases per day. These people need support. Despite a number of our supports and services being closed, we're still supporting people online or on the phone. We are still available to those who are most vulnerable in our communities during this health crisis," he insisted.
The ASI has developed some tip sheets to help support people with dementia and their families in this challenging and rapidly changing situation. These are available here.
For more information on the supports and services available during this challenging time, call the ASI helpline on 1800 341 341. It is open six days a week, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 5pm, and Saturday from 10am to 4pm. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or use live chat on www.alzheimer.ie.
Meanwhile, the ASI is also calling on people to make an emergency donation, as it has had to cancel its biggest annual fundraiser - Tea Day. Donations can be made here.
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