Coronavirus has caused decline in people with dementia, carers say

Carers witness ‘alarming deterioration’ in dementia sufferers due to withdrawal of services

Seamus Cunningham (82)  who has dementia, is cared for by his daughter Denise Monahan. Photograph: Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.

Seamus Cunningham (82) who has dementia, is cared for by his daughter Denise Monahan. Photograph: Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.

 

More than 85 per cent of family carers for people with dementia are concerned about a decline in their loved one’s condition as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found.

The research, conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland (ASI), asked 126 carers and 15 individuals with dementia a series of questions about how the coronavirus restrictions have affected their lives.

Family carers reported witnessing an “alarming deterioration” in the health and wellbeing of people with dementia, due to the withdrawal of “vital” dementia-specific supports and services, according to the report.

Some 77 per cent of carers said their caring workload has increased since the virus, while almost 60 per cent of respondents reported that medical appointments for the person with dementia were either cancelled or postponed during the pandemic.

About 47 per cent of respondents experienced cessation of day care services, 42 per cent experienced the cancellation of support groups and activities for both the carer and person with dementia and 26 per cent experienced closure of respite services.

The report also examined possible long-term implications of the lockdown, with 75 per cent of respondents with dementia concerned about a decline in their mental health and 61 per cent of family carers being concerned for their own mental health.

‘Disturbing picture’

Pat McLoughlin, chief executive of ASI, said the research paints a “very dark and disturbing picture of the plight” family carers and people with dementia face in life after lockdown.

“While many family carers were struggling to cope prior to Covid-19, this crisis has amplified their difficulties and turned everyday caring into a daily struggle. It is also clear that the health of people with dementia has deteriorated during lockdown,” Mr McLoughlin said.

“Our research findings show that living in lockdown has taken an enormous toll on the wellbeing and mental health of family carers, a toll that has intensified as Covid-19 restrictions on dementia-specific services have continued despite other lockdown restrictions lifting.”

Mr McLoughlin said “it is clear” that face-to-face services for people with dementia, such as day care, must reopen “as soon as possible”.

Denise Monahan, who is a full-time carer for her father Seamus Cunningham (82), believes it is crucial that the Government now issues a roadmap for the reopening of dementia-specific services such as day care.

“The lockdown has proved very challenging for my dad and for us as a family. Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the lockdown is that my brothers could not visit and now Dad struggles to identify them,” Ms Monahan said.

“The closure of the day centre was a huge loss and now he does not really remember Rose Cottage [day centre]. It is frustrating that I can get my hair, nails and eyes done and yet this vital service is not available for Dad’s social and emotional wellbeing. We need the day care centre open as soon as possible – the sooner, the better.”