Covid restrictions on dementia services could lead to increase in nursing home admissions, charity says

People with dementia reported to display increased confusion, aggression, anxiety

Many services for older people and those living with dementia closed at the onset of the pandemic and have not yet reopened. Photograph: iStock

Many services for older people and those living with dementia closed at the onset of the pandemic and have not yet reopened. Photograph: iStock

 

The closure of dementia services, such as day care, due to the coronavirus pandemic could result in an increase in older people being moved to nursing homes, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland has warned.

Many services for older people and those living with dementia closed at the onset of the pandemic and have not yet reopened.

Since their closure, carers for people with dementia have reported a decline in their loved one’s condition, with many carers seeing increased incidences of confusion, aggression, anxiety and incontinence.

Pat McLoughlin, chief executive of the Alzheimer Society, said socialising is very important for people with dementia and the absence of this during the coronavirus restrictions has had negative consequences on both the people with the condition, and on their carers.

“The longer this goes on, the more we’re going to see physical and cognitive deterioration - mobility, agitation, all of those issues - if people do not get a chance to get out and socialise with other people who understand them,” he said.

“Carers did have a certain amount of flexibility when somebody was attending our centre and it structured the day so allowed them to do things and get time for themselves. It’s been really, really difficult and we’ve seen that deterioration.”

Mr McLoughlin said long-term residential care is becoming the “default option” for some carers, who feel they are no longer able to help the person for whom they are helping.

“What carers are saying to us [IS]that they see no option now but for somebody they’ve been caring for to go into a nursing home. We’ve been trying to ensure that doesn’t happen, and that we can put in as much homecare as possible,” Mr McLoughlin said.

Mr McLoughlin said that carers are often spousal carers, and are older or have health conditions themselves.

“We’re not talking about a young, group of carers... many of the spousal carers are in their 70s or 80s themselves, so they’re simply unable to handle somebody who gets agitated or aggressive or wandering. It’s clear they can disregard their own health when protecting the person with dementia from experiencing anxiety,” he said.

“If any of [THEIR]services are taken away, the immediate impact is on carers. It’s hard to cope with that. Residential care becomes the default option.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the spread of Covid-19 throughout communities has posed “significant challenges” for many areas of the HSE’s older person’s services.

“At present, the community health organisations are in the process of undertaking a risk assessment of services locally and guidance has been issued to the areas to support the restoration of services for older people and persons living with dementia,” the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman added that the HSE is working closely with providers and staff to identify where services are “most required”.

“The National Dementia Office (NDO) continues to engage with service providers to examine alternative supports such as in home respite to provide support to people with dementia and their carers,” she said.