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.”

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: www.hse.ie/excellenceawards.  

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