People with dementia have experienced ‘significant deterioration’ during pandemic

More than half of family carers reported a deterioration in their own mental health

Carmel Harmon with her daughter and carer Aisling Harmon.

Carmel Harmon with her daughter and carer Aisling Harmon.

 

There has been a “significant and irreversible deterioration” in the condition of many people with dementia during the pandemic, a new report from the Alzheimer Society of Ireland has found.

A survey of people with dementia, family carers, dementia advisers and front-line service workers found 80 per cent were concerned about the decline in a person with dementia.

More than half of family carers of people with dementia reported a deterioration in their own mental health with the same proportion (54 per cent) saying they were worried about how they will be able to cope going forward.

The research also found that the percentage of family carers in need of practical support almost tripled in the past year to 70 per cent.

Wicklow-based family carer Aisling Harmon, whose mother Carmel has advanced Parkinson’s Disease and dementia, found “very frightening and very isolating” the overnight removal of supports when the pandemic hit.

Providing around the clock care, family carers felt “stress and uncertainty in not knowing how long we would have to keep it going for and not knowing when there would be a prospect of supports coming back”, Ms Harmon said.

“I felt extreme fear on behalf of my mother’s welfare. There was no easy or quick contingency plan for my mother,” she said, although basic emergency respite was secured for her mother when needed.

The pandemic served to “highlight just how isolated family carers actually are”, Ms Harmon went on. Carers were at the “back of the queue” in the vaccination rollout even though they are a “vital frontline”, she added.

Chief executive of the society, Pat McLoughlin, said the lives of people with dementia and their family carers remain “very seriously impacted” by the pandemic.

The research reveals the “enormous sacrifices family carers have made in order to protect those they care for. Their struggles include heightened exhaustion, burnout, anxiety, grief, helplessness and despair”, he said.

That family carers were not prioritised in the vaccine rollout has left many feeling “abandoned”, he added.

Mr McLoughlin is calling for the “urgent and safe” reopening of day care centres and social clubs to provide practical support. He also highlighted a need for counselling services for family carers.

Around 64,000 people in Ireland are living with dementia, with 11,000 new cases diagnosed each year.