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Extra care and vigilance needed in aged care to protect people living with dementia

Elderly man dementia coronavirus COVID
Photo: Extra care and vigilance needed in aged care to protect people living with demen....
Dementia peak body acknowledges the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on older Australians, particularly on people living with dementia who are some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said it is crucial that all those working in aged care, especially in Victoria, are extra vigilant in providing care for people living with dementia to protect them from the risk of COVID-19.

“During this time, the aged care sector is under increasing stress. For those impacted by dementia, there will be an added layer of anxiety,” Ms McCabe said. 

“With around 50 per cent of residents in residential care living with dementia, this must be adequately addressed.

“Imagine you are a person living with dementia in residential aged care. Before COVID-19, you might have had regular visits from family members, you might have enjoyed a group lifestyle activity to help you feel connected and you could move freely around the home.
“Suddenly, you cannot leave your room, you might feel frightened by people in masks who you don’t recognise, and are increasingly scared and confused about what is going on.

“When dementia impacts on the ability to communicate their hunger, their pain or their wishes it makes them especially vulnerable.

“This is an example of how the pandemic can impact a person living with dementia – by increasing social isolation, greatly limiting their movement, changing mood and cognition, changing their routine, unsettled by unfamiliar staff, as well as being constantly monitored by people in masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Most family carers understand the rationale for strict protocols in Victoria but the isolation from a loved one is still deeply upsetting for them.

“Carers have reported feelings of grief and anxiety over the risk of neglect or harm, a loss of social connection, purpose and sense of self.

“We know providers are doing the best they can in very difficult and extraordinary circumstances.

“People living with dementia, depending on their symptoms and the level of their abilities, will have varying levels of understanding of the changing situation with COVID-19.

“Effective communication and engagement are paramount at this time. People living with dementia might have trouble recognising people wearing PPE or more difficulty understanding them.

“Introducing yourself by name, using a reassuring tone and pitch, and repeating important key messages are imperative to communicate effectively, as is focusing on person-centred care.

“Engaging with the family wherever possible, even if they are unable to be on site, will help aged care workers in their role.

“The familiar voice of a loved one on a phone call may help to calm someone who seems distressed.

“Family members may be able to share the person’s story with staff that will help them to better understand what the person in their care might be experiencing or how they are responding. They will appreciate being included.

“The more you know about the person, the more you can plan and be prepared to communicate in a way that is best for them.

“At this time it is vital to ensure thorough handovers about the needs of residents living with dementia at shift changes, especially with the increase of agency staff who may be unfamiliar to the resident and unaware of the specific needs of individuals.

“We are here to support the 459,000 Australians living with dementia and the 1.6 million people involved in their care. Please get in touch with our National

Dementia Helpline as questions and concerns arise, on 1800 100 500 or visit dementia.org.au for webchat, resources and information in other languages.”

For support for people with dementia who are experiencing changes in behaviour that impact their care or the carer, contact Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service (DBMAS) on 1800 699 799.

For information and support to senior Australians, their families and carers, contact the Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line on 1800 171 866.

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