Dementia and Covid together is a real worry. Dementia can be hard to recognise in a loved one especially if dementia manifests itself over a period of time. There are different forms of dementia and they can affect memory, thinking, speech and the ability to do ordinary tasks. A diagnosis of dementia is normally given by the GP or by a geriatrician in the hospital.
The Alzheimers Society of Ireland estimate that there are 64,000 people with dementia in Ireland in 2021 and that the numbers will double to over 150,000 by 2045. Many people with dementia still live at home with some support from family and carers. Sometimes people with dementia can live for a long time after the diagnosis and their care needs increase all the time. Eventually the person may need to go to a specialised dementia unit in a nursing home if their needs can no longer be met at home.
The cost of nursing home care is a concern especially if the person is likely to live for a long number of years. Often people with dementia are physically well and strong. During Covid daycare centres closed and families found themselves with reduced support when looking after their older relatives. Some have behavioural issues and can become aggressive. In addition hospitals cancelled medical appointments and families were reluctant to bring relatives out for fear of catching the virus. Some families did not want the risk of homecare workers bringing Covid into the house.
The Covid pandemic has threatened the wellbeing of people with dementia as family carers have become overstretched and exhausted . One concern is that family carers of people with dementia did not get the vaccine as a priority. The Alzheimers Society of Ireland is lobbying the Government in relation to accessing vaccines for carers. Carers may reluctant to ask their own families for help for fear of infecting the person with dementia or the person who comes to help. For a time people were not supposed to travel beyond their immediate area, even though providing care was an exception to this rule and that made life difficult for everyone.
One of the real tragedies of the pandemic was the many deaths that occurred in nursing homes January 2021 just before the vaccination process became effective in Ireland. Some families had taken their relatives out of nursing homes because they were afraid of the virus. Since then older people in nursing homes have been offered the first and second vaccinations and by now they have probably had booster injections too.
Dementia affects a person’s ability to understand and process information to a greater or lesser degree. But older people with dementia deserve to have the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to make decisions in so far as they are able. This issue will be addressed by the full enactment of the Assisted Decision Making Capacity Act 2015 in April 2022. In the meantime the Alzheimers Society of Ireland have produced a guide (I have not reproduced the accompanying pictures here see www.alzheimers.ie to explaining the vaccine to people with dementia containing the following points:
- This leaflet is to help you decide if you want the COVID-19 Vaccine
- COVID-19 is a dangerous virus that can make you very sick
- Getting the COVID-19 vaccine should prevent you from getting sick
- The best doctors and scientirsts in the world say it is safe to get the vaccine
- Some people might get some mild side-effects after they get the vaccine
- If you are not sure what to do, ask people you trust for more information – your family, doctor or nurse
If you have a relative with dementia and you are looking for advice in how to plan their long term care please go to www.emerlavineldercare.ie to book a consulation today.