Dementia Care In A Pandemic – Dad Asked If ‘We Were At War’

Article by Shauna Bowers, first published in the Irish Times on Aug 31st 2020

Looking after her dad during Covid-19 brought added challenges for Teena Gates

Teena Gates bought seeds for planting and organised projects to keep her dad, Terry Martin (95), occupied during the coronavirus pandemic. However, despite all of this preparation, caring for her father – who has vascular dementia – during the Covid-19 lockdown has been far more difficult than she anticipated.

Are we at war? says Dementia Dad

Gates struggled with the restrictions on movement, because it meant her usual tools to relax, such as sea swimming, were no longer permitted due to distance. On top of that, her father could no longer attend day care, which had allowed him to socialise, and also provided Gates with a break from caring.

“I actually ended up in hospital. It turned out to be a stress-related stomach bug,” she says. “It would appear that I have developed irritable bowel syndrome. I got treated for that but it has been a recurrent factor ever since.”

Carers for people with dementia have noticed a deterioration in the people they care for, as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. Gates said she has also noticed a decline in her father’s behaviour.

“I can’t leave my dad alone, he has to be watched 24/7. I can’t even go to the toilet with the door closed, that’s how intense it is,” she explains. “Dad is now attached to me in an unhealthy way. If I leave the room, he’ll follow me.

“He has lost and gone backwards so much. Just recently, I went back to work on Saturday and I had carers with him for 10 hours. It didn’t go well. He got very upset, very distressed,” she adds. “That would not have been a problem [previously]. I was working a three-day week beforehand and had carers with him for three days.”

The reason why anybody does this is because we absolutely adore the person that we are caring for

Gates says that being a carer in non-pandemic times is “tough work”, and that she is “changing pads all night long . . . [and doesn’t] sleep very much.”

But adding Covid-19 to the equation has only exacerbated the magnitude and stress of caring, she explains, particularly because her father doesn’t fully understand the situation.

“I tried to shelter him initially about the virus and what was happening, but he started getting alarmed and asked me if we were at war,” she says. “He knew something was up. He’s 95 so he was very close to the second World War so I had to come clean and explain to him about the virus.”

She added: “He has become agoraphobic. He has now connected the virus with thinking it’s unsafe to go outside. I’m having difficulty getting him into the garden. He used to love the garden.”

Despite all of the challenges, Gates acknowledges that the work is rewarding.

We care because we absolutely adore the person we are caring for

“Seeing dad grinning and smiling at me, with his big blue eyes twinkling at me. Sometimes when he has a good meal, he licks his lips or smacks his lips noisily and will grin at me and say, ‘oh, that was lovely.’ That just warms my heart, it’s marvellous. Those moments are what you hang onto.”

Carer Puts Life On Hold for Dementia Dad


Presenter Teena Gates reveals her life has been put on hold to care for 95-year-old dad after he developed dementia

PRESENTER Teena Gates has told how she’s put her life on hold to care for her beloved father.

Dubliner Teena, also a ­popular journalist and author, opened up about the challenges of providing round-the-clock care for dad Terry Martin (95).

 "It’s a little like seeing the child and parent just literally reversing roles," Teena said.

“It’s a little like seeing the child and parent just literally reversing roles,” Teena said.Credit: Bryan Meade – The Sunday Times

 Teena says she missing going out to the mountains and on long-distance swims.

Teena says she missing going out to the mountains and on long-distance swims.Credit: Paul Sharp – The Sun Dublin

Terry, 95, has vascular dementia as a result of a fall two years ago, and Teena — who spoke as part of Carers’ Week — told how she does everything for her dad.

She said: “In some ways it’s a little like seeing the child and parent just literally reversing roles. Little parts of his brain breaking down or decaying.

“One day he’ll just take the lid off the kettle and put his hands in to see if the water is hot.

“Back in 2018 he had a fall. He suffered some vascular dementia as a result of that fall and that changed everything dramatically.


“I need to look after him 24/7. He needs constant supervision. You have to be hyper sensitive and hyper tuned in to everything they’re doing.

“And then you have all the usual household duties on top of that. You’ve cleaning a house, cooking meals and to get out of the house to go shopping.

“If I concentrated too much on what life had become I’d start getting a bit morose about it.”


Teena opened up about her story for Teva’s Life Effects campaign, in conjunction with Carers’ Week. She told how the life of a carer can be isolating, as she revealed how she’s given up many of her hobbies like mountain climbing and swimming.

She said: “I do miss going out on my mountains and long distance swims. Realistically, there comes a point where the commitment that you need, for me at least, there are so many things which I simply had to wave goodbye to.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I miss those things but dad’s more important.


“Sitting in the garden one day, he said to me, ‘I think I’m mad’. I didn’t know what to say to the man. The feeling of inadequacy, trying to reassure him. I sometimes get sad and sometimes get anxious.

“Even with the best will in the world, the friends who haven’t given up on me, can’t really understand what it’s like.”

She added: “I mean when Dad turns around and looks at me with his little baby blue eyes and his face lights up with childlike delight and happiness it makes everything worthwhile.”

Teena has previously spoken out about the need for more home supports for those caring for family members with dementia.

She said: “Dad loves being at home. and that’s why I’m doing this and I choose to do it. And the love that I have for him and the love that he has for me and the happiness that I see on his good days, that’s what makes it such a rewarding journey.”

FOR more information about Life Effects and tips and advice visit

Carers’ Week runs from June 8-14 and recognises and celebrates the people who care for their loved ones all across the country.

Minister, Please #BringTHEMHome

UPDATE: Dad’s coming home!

Thanks for all the support, shared stories and advice. I’m happy to say #Dad’s HSE care package has been approved and he’s heading home in time for his 94th birthday. While I’m absolutely over the moon, I haven’t forgotten the hundreds of people who are still waiting. I don’t think it’s fair to leave them behind, so let’s keep access to homecare an issue in the headlines, until these packages are available to all who need them without unreasonable delays. #BringTHEMhome

**** here’s how our story began****

Heading into week 7 in hospital for #Dad who’s 94 on June 6th. His wounds have healed after his fall and he wants to go home.

We want him home. His GP wants him home. The hospital wants him home. His social worker wants him home. The HSE wants him home – and according to the Minister for Health, he wants him home too.

However he needs the HSE support package which the Minister and the HSE website says is available, free, to elderly people in this country to facilitate them to live independently at home.

I’d take him home from hospital in the morning – even without it – but his health team says he needs 24/7 care after an ‘acquired brain injury’ accelerated dementia. I can pay privately for some extra care, along with happily caring for him myself. But they don’t think that’s quite enough to ensure his safety at home so here I am waiting for a care package with no idea when it will materialize.

I have felt heavy pressure from the medical profession in the past month to sign dad into a nursing home. That’s not what he wants. It’s not what I want. It’s not going to happen.

It’s been made clear to me that signing Dad out of hospital without a HSE home care package would make me responsible if he hurt himself – and more importantly, would drop him to the bottom of the HSE waiting list.

I have unofficially been told there are 500 people ahead of us waiting for a home care package and there’s no budget available to provide for them.

But Dad is 94. We don’t have time for 499 people to die or be sent to a nursing home. We want him home now.

I don’t want Dad sitting healthy but confused in a ward full of sick people looking forward only to mealtimes and sneak visits to the veranda outside his hospital window by #Google his dog. I am watching his will to live drain from his mind in front of my eyes.

The staff at the Woodlands Medical Unit at Connolly Hospital are wonderful and so caring. Dad has really been well treated there and they were magnificent as he healed. They actually restored my faith in the system, which I feared was truly broken after our experience earlier in A&E. Our Social Worker has also held my hand and been a friend and supporter as she helped me apply for these HSE supports.  I feel too for these professionals on the frontline who got into the business to help others. They are trying to find answers for people like me every day, with the public face of the HSE saying there’s a great system in place, and the reality on the ground being very different.  The hospital staff and the team of social workers working in the community have done great, they’ve done their job, but now it’s time for dad to come home.

Dad is a man who worked and paid taxes for nearly 80 years. He is a man who helped form our country, who helped pay for the education of the ministers sitting in Government today. He is the future facing mums and dad’s all over Ireland.

I’m told the maximum HSE support package is 21hrs a week. The Carer agency I already employ privately charges €25 per hour. Unofficially I’ve been told dad’s hospital bed is costing €6,000 per week. Minister, I’m open and happy to be corrected on that. Also, I’d be happy if you did the maths above – but am I wrong in saying that we’d save you over €5,000 per week by bringing Dad home?

So why isn’t this package available to Dad? The HSE website says it is. Minister, you say it is. But the 7 week wait says it isn’t. Who is telling lies?

Dad is 94 on June 6th.
Minister, please #BringHimHome.

So Why Am I On This Weight Loss Journey?

This was a week when I really wanted to evade my weigh-in.  After getting off to a flying start in January and February and losing over two stone, I had a stumble this week. I went out for dinner twice and made all the wrong choices. I must have been in a food frenzy or carried away with the excitement of being out at about after a long time of hiding away in the shadows.  I ordered steak and forgot to ask for salad instead of chips, forgot to order the sauce on the side, asked for dessert without ice cream and ended up with extra white chocolate and whipped cream, which someone in the kitchen felt was a good substitution. Of course, I could have handed things back, but Continue reading

Finding My Inner Me #Weightlossjourney

Last October 2018 I crashed and burned. After months of feeling as if I was drowning in my own body I just gave up. I stopped any attempt at controlling what I ate and relinquished myself into the delicious delights of freefall. The relief didn’t last long. By Christmas I had put on another two stone and I could barely walk.

I still can’t believe that just three years ago I was running triathlons, swimming lakes and rivers, and loving every moment of my healthy, active lifestyle – and by January 1st of this year I was 25 stone and virtually immobile.

It’s not the first time I’ve been here. I lost 10 stone in 2010 and went on to climb mountains; right up to Elbrus in Russia, Kilimanjaro in Africa (two of the 7 Summits), and above Everest Basecamp to a technical climb on Island Peak in Nepal, at 3,005 feet. I learned Continue reading

The Adventures of #GoogleDog and #Dad93

 For those of you who haven’t met her yet on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram…. let me introduce you to #GoogleDog.

GoogleDog loves belly rubs, gentle nose and ear stroking, and going for walks. She doesn’t really like doggie treats, but loves real chicken. She drinks lots of water and rarely barks. She doesn’t like fireworks, or loud bangs.

Google is very good with most other dogs, but will occasionally take offence and growl and bark. She wears a muzzle in public because she’s a German Shepherd Dog and that’s the law, but she’s ok with that.  She has very good recall and walks very nicely on her lead. She will chase after balls, and can be very dominant when there’s a ball in play – but she won’t fetch a ball, because wearing a muzzle has confused her about what to do with it when she catches it.

She is only slowly beginning to play. She was never played with as a puppy and it’s something that she doesn’t really understand. But that’s slowly and gently changing.

Google is a DSPCSA rescue dog, who was seized from a bad home last November. She came to me as a 2017 Christmas foster, but I couldn’t give her back! Yes, I’m a failed foster mum. We formally adopted her in the first week of January and have never regretted the decision for a moment.

When Google first came to stay, she was a very timid and very underweight doggie, with her pelvis and ribs sticking out through her rough and dull coat. By the summer her muscles and coat had grown so much that she needed an extra four inches on her neck collar!

Google helps look after #Dad93. She carries his personal alarm on her collar, and she tells him when the phone or doorbell are ringing.

She’s an absolute darling dog who had a very bad start in life, but shows very little sign of it now, and is incredibly trusting and kind. My Facebook posts have been absolutely loaded with her funny and heart-warming escapades and the growing friendship between her and dad. So I’ve decided to collect them here on my blog.

So welcome to the future adventures of #GoogleDog and #Dad93.

Wining Project to Keep Seniors Alive and Well at Home…









I’m absolutely thrilled to hear about this seniors’ project, thrilled to hear it’s won top prize in the HSE Health Service Excellence Awards and very excited to hear that it could soon become available nationwide… hurry up, #Dad (92) is waiting!

 Over 300 projects from all over the country entered the 2017 Health Service Excellence Awards, which are open to all staff working in the publicly funded health system. 11 innovative projects got through to the final shortlist after a rigorous selection process. These projects highlight how so many HSE staff are working to deliver better services with easier access and higher quality care for patients.

The Overall Award went to ‘Innovative Support Co-ordination for Older Persons’. This is a joint project between Alone and the HSE which aims to keep older people living well at home for as long as possible. By co-ordinating and organising services for older people who might need some extra support to continue living at home or some practical help to return home from hospital, the two agencies have, to date, supported 489 older people in Dublin North city and county.

This project was piloted in CHO Dublin North City & County where four  ALONE support co-ordinators were funded by the HSE.  Sean Moynihan, CEO of ALONE, explains: “to avoid duplication of services, ALONE works in partnership with other organisation to ensure the best use of limited resources.”

Since the programme began in January, 489 older people have been referred to the service.  Older people can be referred to the service through their GP, public health nurse, or self-refer. Support coordinators help older people by assessing their needs. Many organisations – voluntary, local government and the health service – provide services for older people.  Knowing what is available, where to go and how to access these services can be very confusing and frustrating.

The people who are referred to us have a variety of needs. The type of support people might need could be anything from repairs or adaptions to their house, help with applying for grants, setting up a befriending service if they are lonely or isolated. The list goes on.” Corrinne Hasson (ALONE Support Coordinator).

Margaret Browne is someone who benefits from the program and has a befriending volunteer coming weekly to her home to keep her company; “I really enjoy her company. My family don’t visit me often, so I look forward to seeing her every week. I wish she could come more often.”

Trained volunteers provide support to older people by providing services such as a befriending and events service; informing them of their benefits and entitlements; helping with access to primary care services; assisting with applications/grants/etc; and end of life planning and budgeting.

The programme intends to create a cost effective, scalable, and transferable model by working with all services in the area.  The project aims to:
·        reduce hospital admission and support older people being discharged to return home
·        avoid nursing home admissions, for older people with lower support needs
·        identify factors preventing an older person from living well at home and identify the practical, social resources and supports addressing these factors

The implementation of the Support Co-ordination Project in Dublin North City and County with the HSE and ALONE has facilitated the supporting almost 500 vulnerable older people in these communities across all areas of their lives where they needed assistance.  It would be the aim that we could bring this service nationwide by the end of 2019”, says Samantha Rayner, HSE Older Person Specialist, National Social care.

The Excellence Awards enable the HSE to identify new and creative service developments that can be shared and implemented, as appropriate, in different parts of our health system. The Programme for Health Service Improvement is now planning to work with a number of the project teams to support the innovative work they do.

Speaking about the importance of the awards, Tony O’Brien, Director General of the HSE, said: “The Health Service Excellence Awards are designed to identify and recognise the real value we place on excellence and innovation across all of our health service.”

HSE National Director of Human Resources, Rosarii Mannion, said: “It is our ambition for staff to have a strong sense of connection to our service, take personal responsibility for achieving better outcomes and support their team colleagues to deliver results. The commitment of staff throughout the public health service contributes in a very significant way to the quality and satisfaction levels acknowledged by the people who use our services.”

Full details of the shortlisted projects can be found at:  

TILDA, #Dad (92) and Me

Yesterday I was messaging with a community nurse, an occupational therapist, and hiring a professional carer. These are support services which will help me to help my lovely #Dad (92). A few months ago, I didn’t know they existed.

As I headed into work as a journalist with Newstalk Network News, I was still trying to understand how I could be so ignorant about what’s available to a man of dad’s age. Some of these services are free, some I have to pay for, but the fact that they’re there at all will make both dad’s journey, and mine, so much happier. It’s a privilege and a pleasure to care for dad. I would hate the pleasure and fun of our love and friendship to be eaten away by stress and difficulty.

Knowing that I have started building a new, safe, environment for dad feels like a pressure jet being released. The air physically escapes from my lungs in a rush and I feel my shoulders drop; an easing of tension that’s been building for months. For the first time I begin to realise how hugely stressed I have become.

Later today I’m meant to be flying to Copenhagen for a two day mini-break and to wild swim in the city’s freezing canals. (It’s a thing). But the trip’s been cancelled since Friday, when dad complained about a volcano in the garden; and I realised I couldn’t leave him alone any more.

I’ve learned that the sudden realisation of being a carer can leave you scrambling for answers.

Leaving the house and turning the car into the evening rush hour, I again found myself wondering about how quickly my world has changed. How could I find myself so far behind the game; failing to realise dad’s changing needs until he fell and hurt himself earlier this year?

How did I accept the brush-offs about unavailability, 2yr waiting lists for Occupational Therapy and the casual dismissals of my growing concerns?

Suddenly I realise I’m angry.

Age is not a disease and age is not an excuse for lack of respect or care. Dad’s in great health and can continue to happily live at home with me; with just a little extra support.

My dad’s dad received a 1916 medal for services rendered during the foundation of the state. His son (my dad) helped build our country, he worked all his life and paid all his taxes. He ran in cross country races, he was a sprinter, he won medals for dancing while working in Belfast during the troubles, and he cycled from his farm in Cavan to Croke Park for a match (and Cavan wasn’t even playing!). My dad has an expensive love for silk ties and Louis Copeland suits, and his favourite food is a 30oz steak! He is a person, an individual, a charming, funny, sensitive gentleman. He deserves a proper and dignified quality of life.

*Breathes deeply*.

Driving towards Dublin city centre, I also wonder whether my experience is unique? I’m a working journalist who has spent the last 30 years asking questions. If I run into a brick wall while trying to get answers, surely I’m not the only one finding the going tough?

With that thought buzzing between my ears, I arrived into work to find the latest TILDA report on ageing in Ireland, sitting on my desk. Incredible timing. But my eyes widened and my jaw dropped as I read it’s heartbreaking findings. It’s being published today and guess what?

#Dad (92) and I are not alone.

Read on >>>


42 per cent of all care provided in ‘last year of life’ in Ireland is provided informally by either friends or family.

A significant number of elderly people are NOT accessing support and services which are available to them. Many don’t know what’s on offer; others don’t know how to go about getting it.

People can enjoy a better quality of life in their final months if treatable conditions are screened and tended to accordingly; this includes pain relief and help with depression.


These are some of the findings of the latest TIDLA report published today. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing is a large-scale, nationally representative survey on ageing in Ireland.

8,500 people over the age of 50 initially took part in Tilda, and its latest findings are based on interviews with the family members and friends of 375 participants who have died since the study began.


Check out radio news bulletins to hear more (Tues 12/12) with report author Prof Charles Normand of Trinity College Dublin, and reaction from Catherine Cox, Head of Communications and Carer Engagement at Family Carers Ireland.

Or read the full report at

With a Little Help From My Friends…. #Dad (92)

I’m very happy to say I’m now a member of three new groups, which are offering me support & advice about how best to keep an eye on my lovely #Dad (92).

This is in addition to – and as a result of – the invaluable information that I got this year from the Health Care Assistants and Carers’ page on Facebook – who were there when I really didn’t know where to turn.

With their help, I now have a Community Nurse and Occupational Therapist visiting dad – which was eventually organised through my GP and local healthcare centre, once I knew what to ask for.

I also have a Lifeline24hr monitored alarm bracelet that dad can use to call for help at the press of a button.

Social fun, parties and outings have always been on offer through the wonderful Sally and Marie in our local St.Peregrine’s senior citizens’ network – and dad and I are both looking forward to attending the Christmas Party next week!


My three latest finds are: – this is a technical online platform which allows me to hire a Garda-vetted, qualified, professional carer, who charges by the hour/visit. – which is a support network for carers all around the country.

And the Carefolk Family – a brand new FREE web and mobile application that is currently being launched to connect carers with a peer support network.

I’m popping this all down here in case it helps anyone else that suddenly realises they need to start reaching out for a bit of help.


  • Communicorp
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  • Limerick City & County Enterprise Board
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