Urgent action is needed to combat people living with dementia ‘dying from loneliness’ in care homes, Alzheimer’s Society has warned.
The charity is urging its supporters in the South West of England to sign a letter calling on the Government to set out a clear timetable for the re-introduction of ‘meaningful visits’ from loved ones for people living in care homes, where at least 70% of residents have dementia.
Its new campaign – ‘Wait until May? No Way!’ – highlights the importance of such visits which, it says, are vital to the health and wellbeing of people living with dementia.
Tragically, at the height of last year’s lockdown there was an additional unexplained rise in dementia deaths beyond those who died from the virus.
An Alzheimer’s Society survey involving almost 2,000 respondents affected by dementia1 shows that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, more than four in five (82%) reported a deterioration in people with dementia’s symptoms. A third said they felt like ‘giving up’.
The nature of dementia is that if people are not using their skills, they quickly lose them. This includes basic cognitive functions like the ability to recognise family members, as well as communication skills such as remembering words or forming sentences.
Marion Child, Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of Services for the South West, said:
“Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that Covid-19 death rates are now at their highest levels in care homes, and many residents have not seen their loved ones for almost a year. When visits have happened, they all too often fail to meet the needs of people with dementia.
“While progress on vaccinating care home residents is welcome, we are concerned that low vaccination rates for care home staff will further delay the re-introduction of meaningful visits for residents and their loved ones.
“This lack of contact from their loved ones means people with dementia are deteriorating at a much faster rate than they would otherwise. They are not just dying due to Covid-19. They are also dying from loneliness.
“We need the public to sign our online letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, so care home residents can be reunited with their loved ones at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The letter can be accessed through the charity’s website alzheimers.org.uk/coronavirus-campaigns
It demands the Government prioritises care home visits as part of its upcoming roadmap to ease lockdown, expected to be revealed later this month.
Alzheimer’s Society insists family carers are an integral part of the care system and when removed, the essential care and wellbeing of the individual suffers.
It is not, says the charity, simply about being able to see someone in person and give them a hug. A family carer may be the only person allowed to brush their loved ones’ teeth when no-one else can get near, the only one who can get them to take medicine, to eat or drink. They act as both their voice and memory, articulating on their behalf and offering support like no one else can.
There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including 131,700 in the South West England.
Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The risk of spreading the virus must be balanced with the crucial need for social contact.
“Window visits simply don’t work for people with dementia, who are declining rapidly, losing their abilities to speak and be independent, and ultimately dying prematurely.
“Action must be swift to avoid further tragedy. All staff must swiftly be vaccinated, and testing, PPE and infection control measures used to enable safe visits – with a clear timeline for family carer vaccinations, what more is needed?”