Elderly woman looking out of a window

In a tea room conversation with a colleague (adhering to social distancing guidelines), Margaret* recounted a situation so perfectly relevant in today’s climate of social distancing in the wake of COVID-19. It was her Mum’s birthday and Margaret and her brother wanted to deliver a cake and present to her at her nursing home.

The staff there offered to set up a meeting place to make their time together more special. Margaret continues, “We were allowed to see her through a sliding door with my brother and I sitting outside. She was very sad that she couldn’t kiss us. It was also quite cold for her. Looking back I would now make the choice to just ring and have them deliver the cake and present, she was understanding that she could not see us at the moment due to the virus.” Hindsight, Margaret realised was a wonderful thing and perhaps the plan should have stopped at the delivery of cake and present and a phone call.

This so poignantly shows the difficulties of loving and caring for someone with dementia and wanting to celebrate their special days. Margaret’s Mum had become distressed at the unusual way they had had to meet and this would be very common with many people with dementia who have their routines and set ways of doing things. The like-clockwork visit by a daughter on her way home from work, the son who drops the newspaper in for his Dad on his way to work, just two of many scenarios.

This article focuses on the following areas:

 

The world has changed, but dementia has not

The world has changed since COVID -19 (coronavirus) became known in late 2019. The way we work, shop, travel and gather have all had a major rethink and looking after people with dementia has not escaped this change.

Dementia diagnoses don’t stop just because there is a virus wreaking havoc. There is so much more stress to handle for caregivers who are now dealing with their loved ones with dementia at a time of reduced assistance. Whether they are at home with them and in isolation, or their loved one is like Margaret’s Mum, in a nursing home and they are now restricted in going to see them. Everything is compounded because of this disease.

Home caregiver and senior adult woman

Elderly people in residential care facilities

The following ABC News piece Coronavirus and Aged Care rules says in part “There is (a) great concern (about) the isolation of elderly people in residential care facilities, where they have been prevented from having any visitors”.

The initial advice provided by the National Cabinet for aged care providers “was that residents could have two visits a day by close relatives and support people”. For the protection of their own facility’s residents and staff, it seems some have put in place tougher than necessary rules and regulations.

The Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy has offered a reminder of the measures in place at facilities to make visits safe for residents, staff and family and friends. His standard advice is reiterated in the comment “… nobody, nobody enters an aged care facility if they are in any way unwell”.

Furthermore, the chief executive of Council On The Ageing (COTA) Ian Yates said that “as well as providing company, loved ones or support people often played a role in calming…residents with dementia”.

Advice for Retirement Villages Coronavirus (COVID-19)

There is a fact sheet available for residential aged care facilities so that they can understand the safety measures necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Fact Sheet: Advice for Retirement Villages

Routines and respite

Carers of people with dementia know that a routine is essential and directives such as stay-at-home orders can throw an entrenched routine off-kilter. The very basic tasks of social distancing and washing hands will likely be forgotten creating tension and frustration in already stressed out households. It can be an extremely lonely time for a carer in isolation. Families aren’t able to visit and schedules are missing. For many carers of people with dementia at home, their respite time has gone with adult daycare facilities closed and volunteer caregivers not visiting. Those chances for a break from caring whether it meant going for a walk, doing the grocery shop or having an hour’s catch up with a friend are now on hold.

Dementia senior friends picture

Social distancing and keeping in contact

Carers have had to become more creative with the ways they contact friends and family, with Skype, How to use Skype and Zoom now popular platforms for communicating.

The blog Staying Connected in Isolation provides an explanation of what Zoom is, what you need to be able to use it, its accessibility, cost and the safety aspects of it.

Other platforms include FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Messenger and Whatsapp.  And not forgetting the traditional telephone per se.

The Senior website provides a thoughtful take on ways to maintain social distancing and keeping in contact from afar. Staying close to your loved ones at a distance 

 

Dementia Australia and COVID-19

Dementia Australia is the peak body advocating for the many thousands of Australians living with dementia. It has produced a number of factsheets to assist and advise people on ways to care for their loved ones.

National COVID Older Persons Information Line

There is a new COVID-19 hotline for older Australians 1800 171 866, to help them get the information they need and to keep up-to-date at this time. 

National Dementia Helpline

The National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500, operates nationally from 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. A message service is also available.

Disability Information Helpline

The Disability Information Helpline 1800 643 787 provides information and referrals for people with disability who need help because of coronavirus (COVID-19). The Helpline can help families, carers, support workers and services. It is free, private and fact-checked.

Something to consider…

To everyone struggling with being in isolation…this is how our grandmas, grandpas, and parents feel when we don’t visit. This is how older people in nursing homes feel when no one visits. Remember them when this is over.

Dementia lonely senior woman

* name changed

For further information: 

 

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