There’s no denying that we are in a profound time of change, a time when the rules as we know them are constantly being swept away from under our feet. For those of us who have loved ones living with dementia, it is an especially challenging time, particularly if they do not live in our homes with us. For those in specialist homes, they will at least have the help of their regular carers. But if your loved one is living alone, how much support can/should you be giving, and what kind?
The government has clearly stated that we should all be staying at home, except when we need to buy groceries or medical supplies, or for once-daily exercise. The elderly and vulnerable are being advised to self-isolate for up to 16 weeks. This does not specifically include people with dementia; but if your loved one has other health considerations, or is in any way vulnerable, you might decide to follow this advice. If you live close enough to your loved one you can shop for them and deliver goods to their doorstep; if not then it is crucial to find someone who can help out – try their local council website. Alternatively the NCVO (National Council for Volunteer Organisations) is a good place to start; their website will guide you to the local community efforts being organised in your area. You can reach it here. You can also register for help from the NHS Volunteers Scheme here.
It’s important to try to help loved ones understand why these changes are happening. Of course, trying to explain the new rules of social engagement to someone with dementia will have varying success, depending on how advanced their condition is. It may be that your loved one can understand the principle of staying inside at the time that it is explained to them, but then forgets to apply it. You will need to be patient and explain the concept regularly.
Regular phone contact (preferably at the same sort of time each day) will of course help to put your mind at rest and provide comfort and support. But there are lots of other things you can do, which include:
- Paying bills and handling utilities accounts
- Ordering food to be delivered
- Getting someone to put their rubbish out for them each week
- Coordinating medical appointments/healthcare visits for them
- Arranging for prescriptions to be delivered
You could also put together a folder of information about the person which is handy for anyone who has to step in if your loved one falls ill. This should include details about their dementia (how long they’ve had it, how far it has progressed etc), GP or carer details; what they need help with; and what they enjoy doing.
If you have a neighbour or volunteer who lives near your loved one and is happy to take supplies to them, it is helpful to have a checklist to ask them so that you can feel more in control of the situation. Some good things to ask are: Are there any changes in their medical
condition? Do they seem to be their usual self in terms of appearance, weight and wellbeing? Are there any signs that they are taking less care of themselves, or where they live, than before? This could include increasing untidiness, out of date food in the fridge; rubbish building up etc.
And lastly, do remember to look after yourself and seek support if you need it, from friends, family and dementia charities. These are unprecedented times, but you are doing the best that you can for your loved one, and that is all any of us could hope for.