Covid still having an impact on dementia patients and families


ON HOLDRespite services were provided in this 12-bed facility in Ballindine but have been suspended since the Covid outbreak.


Anton McNulty

September is officially known as Alzheimer’s Month and yesterday (Monday) marked World Alzheimer’s Day to raise awareness and the challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.
The disease, which claimed the life of former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton in July, is most common among the over 65 age bracket and in Ireland there are currently around 55,000 people living with dementia.
In Mayo, Western Alzheimer’s are the main group which provides support and care for people suffering from dementia along with their families. Before Covid-19, Western Alzheimer’s provided day care services three days a week in its day care centre in Foxford and respite services were provided in its 12-bed facility in Ballindine.
Since March those services have been suspended and according to Tom McCann, the Dementia Nurse Specialist with Western Alzheimer’s, it has had a negative impact on users and their families.
“The idea of the day centre is to allow social interaction and a day out with friends but also daily respite for family members who are involved in care for a loved one with dementia. Unfortunately that service is not there and has a huge impact on the client but also on the family members who don’t have that outlet.
“It gives family members respite to plan their week but they don’t have that now. I have seen a lot of clients whose condition has deteriorated and their dementia has escalated because of the lack of social support that the day centre was providing,” he explained.
Tom explained that the day care services offer an array of activities to enjoy during the day from the moment they arrive in the morning to when they leave in the afternoon. He said they are fortunate to have had a number of volunteers to came into the centre to play music, provide entertainment and exercise and allow the users to have fun.
“It is crucial for their physical well-being and mental well-being and also to increase their interaction and engagement,” Tom said of the day care service.
“Research shows that people engaging in activities like this can have a huge affect on slowing down the deterioration of their dementia. Unfortunately as we know there is no cure for dementia and it is up to us as professionals to try to implement services that will help down that deterioration. One of the things which helps is attending a social day centre or day club where people can come and look forward to the day as best they can.”

Up to two weeks ago, Western Alzheimer’s thought they would be in a position to reopen the day care services but the recent spike of cases nationwide has put the brakes on those plans. Tom said it is very frustrating for both the families and the staff but they are putting in place services to help families deal with difficulties they are facing.
“We are trying to put services in place that we can operate safely and one of the things we are doing in Mayo is the appointment of a dementia nurse specialist to support the client and the family member.  
“The family can contact our head office in Ballindine and ask to speak to the dementia nurse specialist and that service is there for anyone who wants advice. The nurse if needs be can call out to the family member at home with social distancing in place to advice them.
“Hopefully this will help in some little way … all we can do is offer as much help and support to the person with dementia as well as the carer. At least there is someone with clinical experience to sit down and talk to the family which will give a little bit of light,” he said.
Another service which they hope to expand is a befriending service whereby volunteers are assigned to assist people with dementia and their family in their homes.
“We have to concentrate on what we can do,” Tom explained. “While a lot of services are curtailed by Covid, the befriending service is one which we have been given the green-light to go ahead and we want to expand it. The volunteer befriending service is where Western Alzheimer’s would recruit and train and match volunteers and align them with a person in the Mayo area with dementia.
“All we are asking for is if anyone has two hours they can spare in a week and could they give that to a person or family member with dementia. They will only be given one family and it is very safe with all the precautions adhered to as much as possible. We have to concentrate on what we can do rather than services which are closed.”