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Challenges for dementia sufferers during the pandemic

11 Sep 2020

During the month of September we celebrate Dementia awareness month with World Alzheimer’s Day commemorated annually on 21st September.

A person suffering from dementia may find it difficult to initiate a conversation or an activity themselves. When no one else does anything to engage their attention the person has no choice but to retreat into their own thoughts.

This year we must reflect on the added challenges to dementia sufferers due to the pandemic. Many may have their normal routines disrupted, experience a lack of cognitive stimulation, feel lonely and anxious, fear being abandoned and risk depression. Others may experience a deterioration of their condition, sleep disturbances, a change in behaviour, self-neglect and premature institutionalization.

The disruption in routines has accelerated stress levels in many dementia patients. Due to memory loss, forgetting why they can’t go places causes more pent-up stress, can lead to pacing, picking at skin, more compulsive outlets, more sadness and loneliness if unable to be with family, anger at not being able to do what they want, and increased frustration with reminders about wearing masks, without understanding why.

Even people with more advanced dementia, who do not fully understand the current situation, may be affected by the loss of support and sense the stress and emotional upheaval caused by COVID-19 through the people around them and in the media. They may have difficulty understanding ‘cocooning’ (at home or in residential care), distancing and the use of protective clothing (making it difficult to recognize service providers), resulting in them feeling trapped, abandoned, confused or scared. As visits from friends and relatives are either reduced or stopped, the needs of people with dementia risk going undetected or not being adequately met.

Distancing, accompanied by loss of support, lack of structure to the day and uncertainty about the duration of the measures may make it difficult for people with dementia to cope and, depending on their condition, to continue living independently. Those who live with other people may benefit from continued support, both practical and emotional, but some may have care responsibilities themselves (e.g. for children, partners and even parents). Moreover, the long periods of time spent together in close proximity, without outside support, may be challenging for all concerned.