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Keeping connected important for those with dementia

Social distancing measures introduced in March this year have kept many Western Australians safe from Coronavirus. Yet these measures also highlighted the need to stay connected to the more vulnerable members of our community who live alone or who are experiencing heightened feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Although many of us have adjusted to life as it is now, this kind of change can be difficult for some. Some people rely on strict routines to get through their day. Changes to normal patterns such as the cancellation of a regular social outing or event, not being able to see family and friends, even changes to the weekly grocery shop can cause undue stress and worry. People with dementia can find this particularly difficult to deal with. And because dementia affects everyone differently a person’s reaction may not be what you would expect.

Families living with dementia reported a range of reactions from their loved ones. Some became quite distressed seeing or hearing news about Coronavirus, believing they or their family were infected. Others did not understand why they were unable to see family and friends, or participate in regular activities and outings. They felt confused and angry at the disruption to their routine. Others still became quiet and withdrawn, which is equally worrying. All of this increased the stress and demands on carers and family members.

Our day centres were shut for three months and although this was hard on our regular clients, at least they were able to be at home with loved ones. Many families were barred from visiting relatives in residential care homes. A tricky situation, as lockdowns were in place to protect some of the most vulnerable members of our community. We heard of some very creative solutions to stay in touch, such as setting up space near a window so family members could talk to their loved one over the phone while looking at them through the glass. Our hearts also went out to families and staff at Newmarch House as an outbreak in the facility took 19 lives.

Our day centres re-opened in mid June and the atmosphere on that first day, indeed that first week, was like a party (with social distancing of course). Everyone was so happy and excited to see their friends and familiar faces. Clients commented they had missed the companionship. The laughter served as a tonic to erase the fear of the past few months.

One of the best things you can do now that restrictions are easing is to keep in contact with family and friends. Even the ones you think have been coping just fine. Check in with them, their responses might surprise you. Keeping up social connections really is vital for our mental health. Stay safe and stay connected.

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