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Campaign provides support for people living with dementia

Dementia wellbeing specialists, campaigners living with dementia and university academics have come together to share support for those caring for people with dementia over the winter lockdown.

The new move comes after lockdowns and prolonged isolation have left many friends and family of those living with dementia worried they won’t be celebrating the festive season with their loved one.

New research has highlighted growing anxiety about the long-term impact of social distancing on dementia patients’ mental wellbeing.

The research from dementia wellbeing specialists, Relish, revealed that a third (36%) of those concerned about a loved one with dementia over Christmas are worried about them being on their own, and 29% say this will be their first Christmas apart in recent years. Of those surveyed, just 24% indicated that their loved one was being cared for in a care home, the rest are living at home including 19% who are living by themselves.

Around 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK and restrictions imposed due to the pandemic have made it even more challenging to help them feel connected, happy and stimulated. The research found that 43% of friends and family of those living with dementia say their loved one is unhappier now than they were at the start of the year. 

Relish conducted the research after a University of Liverpool study found that reductions in weekly social support in the first lockdown contributed to worse quality of life and anxiety in those affected by dementia and older adults across the UK, as well as reduced wellbeing for their carers.

Author and campaigner Keith Oliver was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 55. Now 64, he had been self-isolating with his wife Rosemary during the early part of the pandemic. Keith says:

The coronavirus lockdown has been a very challenging time for us, and I don’t think anyone could have anticipated just how difficult it’s been. Looking ahead to Christmas, it is sad to think we may not get to spend time with our friends and family. I am lucky to have my wife, but sadly so many people are alone.

We try and do a lot of enjoyable activities together that keep my brain and body engaged. But more than half my care plan is based around doing more activities to help me keep well, some of which disappeared with the Covid-19 restrictions.  

Although there have been many challenging days over the past months there have been many positive ones as well – it really has been a Corona-coaster of a year. When social contact with loved ones is so limited, an individual approach to cognitive stimulation for people living with dementia is vital for the months ahead.” 

Ben Atkinson-Willes, the founder and CEO of Relish, a social impact company that aims to bring joy and engagement to people with dementia through creating activities and games focussed on wellbeing, started his company in 2010 after trying and failing to find something that he could do with his grandfather when he developed Alzheimer’s. He commented:

With more time spent apart, it is understandable that friends and family caring for loved ones with dementia may feel helpless and anxious – it is a particularly difficult time. 

And whilst there can never be any substitute for being in the company of your loved one, knowing how you can support their wellbeing and joy, even from afar, can help alleviate some concerns.

Now, Relish is working with campaigners and academics to offer advice for supporting the mental wellbeing of people with Dementia during the winter lockdown, encouraging others to do the same on social media using #DementiaWithJoy.

Advice includes:

1 – Find opportunities to engage the mind

2 – Connect from a distance

3 – Stay socially active 

4- Understand what wellbeing means to the individual 

5 – Use music to reminisce and relax

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.