The names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.
Many people have found themselves separated from their loved one who is living with dementia during lockdown and in some cases this has been due to them living in a residential care setting. The separation is difficult for all concerned so Our Connected Neighbourhood volunteers have reached out to some of the individuals we support to uncover what they have done to ensure that someone living with dementia is supported during this time where almost every interaction is limited to communication with paid staff.
Carers have been increasingly finding practical stimulus to give to staff to act in some instances as a proxy for the contact and time that they might typically spend with their partners or relative. Many of these things would support a carer supporting a loved one in their own home when there are limitations on going out the house too.
Here G has described some of the things he has tried to do to support his wife.
Things to Do
Taking in or sending materials and activities has provided a purposeful way of encouraging staff to ensure that meaningful activities are available and that the interests of the person are provided for even under lockdown.
“I’ve taken in drawing stuff and sketch pads and I’ve asked them to make time to sit with her and encourage her to draw, otherwise she won’t bother,” said G. “ I don’t know how often they have the time, but I know she has done a couple of pictures at least.”
Things to Reminisce or Talk About
Some talking points such as photographs, or objects of personal interest, can be opportunities for staff to get to know residents better and can trigger good conversations that help individuals living with dementia to stay connected to their loved one’s at home via care staff. The reassurance of these photos and memorabilia can make the experience of being away from home less worrying.
G says: “I got some photos together for her to look through. I’ve got some framed photos of [an experience they shared] up on the wall, and I want to get those copied for her at some point. She used to love that [object] and I’m hoping it will stir some happy memories. I’m also waiting for her son to send me a ‘magic photo frame’ [a digital photo frame] so she can have it in her room.”
Ways to communicate
While telephone or virtual contact is possible, it can also be very emotional and difficult for everyone concerned. In the case of G who was struggling to connect with his wife, after talking to a SSAFA counsellor he decided to use a more traditional form of communication “She advised me to write … [my wife] a letter so I’m going to do that. I’m hoping she’ll enjoy getting one.”
Paid and Unpaid Carers working together
Of course care home staff are cognisant of the role they play in supporting these family and community relationships generally, and especially given the restrictions in place due to Coronavirus. Increasingly in this increasingly globalised world, family members can live on the other side of the country and even overseas and still want to do their best to feel connected to their loved one in a residential care home. This starts right from day one and it is imperative for care staff to maintain open channels and work in partnership with the person living with dementia and their unpaid carers and loved ones.
G talked a bit about his experience with his wife moving to a care home: “We didn’t get any choice in where … [my wife] was sent but I think we’ve been lucky. I’ve looked up the Care Reports and they seem to score well. It doesn’t surprise me they always seem very nice when I call.”
He talks a lot about the communication he has with staff and about the reassurance of being able to speak to them easily and hear about his wife: “I never have any trouble finding out how she’s getting on. They’re good at answering the phone.”
That reassurance is compounded when it is clear staff have personalised the activities and support they offer to meet the interests and needs of the person living with dementia that they are supporting. G gave a great example, “They tell me she likes to help with the dishes, and she’s very sociable. They’ve been helping her make friends. They know she speaks [a foreign language] so they’ve teamed her up with a lady who can speak the same language too. She’s frail but she doesn’t have memory problems like …[my wife] so I’m hoping that will be good for her.”
Written by OCN volunteers and participants.
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts reflecting on the experiences of people living with dementia, their carers and neighbourhoods during the coronavirus pandemic. The posts are a synthesis of perspectives gathered with people living with dementia in Central Scotland over the course of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. These have been collected by OCN volunteers and drafted collaboratively in order to build a larger picture of the impact of Covid-19 and what the changes around it have meant for people living with dementia and their carers. It is important to highlight that in most instances these are people who will have been shielding for a significant period of time. It is clear, therefore, that more must be done to improve their access to support, community and to reduce loneliness. We hope these articles will widen understanding of the issues and draw attention to what can be a hidden problem for many people.