For many carers who look after loved ones with dementia, it can be difficult to remain connected with family. Travelling to see family can cause confusion, even simple conversations on the phone can be difficult for the person with dementia, as they may struggle with words or realising who they are talking to. With the lockdown imposed, staying connected to family and friends became even harder for our carers, and along with that loneliness and isolation became a reality of their lives.
Many of us have embraced technology through Covid-19, whether it is face-timing for a chat or quiz nights on zoom. This became the challenge for Dementia Support – to get a generation with varying degrees of technological competence, online and talking.
Isolation and loneliness
As a nation we are having less conversations with each other and two thirds of Brits are hesitant to talk to people they do not know. These facts are adding to the increased loneliness. Alongside the dispersed family dynamics of families who are separated vast distances, communication can become nearly impossible. Loneliness and isolation can have devastating consequences on people’s health, and that feeling of solitariness can lead to depression and other mental health illnesses. A recent survey, conducted by the Alzheimer’s society (1), showed that 56% of people living with dementia have been completely isolated due the coronavirus lockdown.
For Dementia Support, a great part of the work was focused on reducing loneliness and isolation for people living with dementia and their carers. Before lockdown, people living with dementia and their carers enjoyed our daily ‘Chatter Tables’, hosted by a dedicated team of volunteers – chatting for over 830 hours (August19 – March 20). However, keeping people connected during Covid-19 became one of Dementia Support’s greatest challenges.
Through working during this period I was surprised how older generations embraced the need for technology in a time when they have not been able to physically connect with family and friends. Dementia Support began to use various platforms to keep the staff connected, and soon this was expanded for the carers and people living with dementia.
As part of carers week in June, nineteen carers and their loved ones with dementia joined the Wayfinder team on Zoom for a “difficult conversations” virtual chat, reminiscence techniques including ‘google map’ reminiscence and chair-based exercises. Lockdown brought about the creation of a telephone befriending service for people who were lonely and isolated, virtual ‘chatter tables’, and activities online. The most popular virtual activity was the weekly sing-a-long offered by the amazing Dawn Gracie, a local vintage singer who donated her time and vocal talents to virtually entertain existing members of the Sage House Friday singing group. These sessions then reached a wider audience, including local care homes and family members across the world, including America. One of the charities regular members told staff the benefit of virtual activities was that his wife was able to carry on enjoying singing from the comfort of her sofa.
Benefits of virtually connecting
The befriending volunteers made over 35 hours of calls (May-August 2020) to people who were living alone, felt lonely or isolated. One of the befriended said receiving calls “minimised the effect of lockdown” for them and, for that time, it could “take away the daily problems”. Another person commented that “receiving a friendly chat has been most welcome”. In a recent survey of Dementia Support Customers, 90% agreed, or strongly agreed, that we have helped to reduce loneliness and social isolation they were experiencing during Covid-19.
One of the challenges of zoom has been getting carers to understand the technology and, even as I write, I can hear a colleague talking to a carer about which buttons to press to activate the camera. However, once connected, it has been a powerful way of bringing carers together. For one of our carers, whose husband went into a care home at the start of lockdown, the virtual world became the only way for her to stay connected with him and Dementia Support. Once connected to zoom, she has been able to have weekly zoom calls with her husband and stay in touch with him. She soon encouraged other carers online and they now have a weekly virtual meet up rather than the coffee and chat they would enjoy at Sage House. She told me that using zoom has helped her “feel less alone at a time of great uncertainty” and that it was “good to see friendly faces and catch up over coffee while sat in our own homes.” The Dementia Support survey showed that 93% of our customers agreed, or strongly agreed, that we have helped them make the best of each day.
The Zooming End of It!
Loneliness can be a reality for anyone , but during the Covid-19 lockdown many carers looking after loved ones with dementia have found themselves feeling increasingly isolated and lonely. However, Dementia Support has adapted it’s face to face services to enable carers and their loved ones with dementia to continue accessing support. Through the development of new services and some technical support, carers have been able to access virtual activities, which has enabled them to feel part of the Dementia Support community.
To recognise National Family Day on the 26th September, Dementia Support wants to encourage families, friends, and communities to connect virtually. Can you help to connect someone?
Are you a grandchild that could spare an hour to help a grandparent access Dementia Support virtual activity for an hour a week?
Are you caring for a loved one with dementia who could benefit from doing some virtual activities together?
Can you spare some time to show an older neighbour how to virtually connect with their family and friends?
Can you volunteer your time to make befriending calls to help reduce their loneliness or isolation and make their lives more meaningful?
Do you know someone who would benefit from a free weekly befriending call?
Look out for my next blog – The Emotional Rollercoaster of Covid-19 – as experienced by carers and staff at Dementia Support