Last winter my father’s health deteriorated quite markedly as both his mental capacity and his mobility went downhill. In January, on the advice of professionals, family members visited various care homes and put his name on a couple of waiting lists in case it came to the point where he could no longer stay at home. In February one of those homes phoned to say a room had become available but (as his key carer) I turned it down because dad remained happy at home and we were still coping. During lockdown I have reflected hard on what it would have been like for both of us if I had taken that place.
Dad is an incredibly placid and accepting person, but he does become anxious in new and unpredictable circumstances, and I am certain that his anxiety would have been triggered if he had found himself facing lockdown after only just moving into an unfamiliar environment. He is still well aware that I visit him regularly and the sudden cessation of our contact so soon after entering a home would undoubtedly have caused him great confusion and concern. Indeed a relative of mine, who sadly lost his wife to Alzheimer’s in a nursing home just prior to lockdown, wrote to say that, sad as he was, he was glad of the timing of her death since she would not have understood why he had stopped visiting and would have become distraught. From my own point of view I know that I would have felt huge guilt, worry and a sense of loss at being unable to see dad so soon after he went into care; and those feelings would only have intensified when media stories about the risks in care homes began to proliferate.
When lockdown occurred all dad’s social activities obviously stopped and I took the decision to put his respite care (one day a week) on hold. He receives weekly phone calls from Town Break, my sister and my brother, but I now limit his physical contact with the outside world to myself alone. I visit three times every day, often staying longer than I would have done in the past because I am aware that he has no other company. If dad had gone into the home the one advantage I can see is that he would have had lots of people around him and therefore a much better social life, but only as long as the community remained virus free. As it happens, the social isolation has drawn dad and me closer together, and he says that he doesn’t miss going out. We do our exercises, play lots of Scrabble and dominoes, tackle puzzles together (many kindly sent by Town Break) and always have a jigsaw on the go. I feel less guilty about being at his flat for considerable periods of time as I know that my husband is stuck in back home and long visits are not getting in the way of the two of us going out together as they sometimes did in the days before the pandemic. When I’m not at dad’s he quite happily occupies himself watching TV, listening to the radio or looking through photo albums. I am secretly quite enjoying our little lockdown bubble and it makes me sad to think we might have missed out on this quality period if I had said yes when the home offered a room. I was very impressed by the quality of care in the home in question so that was not an issue, but for all that, I have to be honest and say that I am extremely glad and relieved that dad has not been one of its residents during the pandemic.
Written by OCN volunteers and participants.
This is the second 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.