Unfortunately, Oliva was unable to make it to the Westminster Hall debate on dementia and covid-19 today. This is her contribution in lieu of being able to speak in the debate itself.
Approximately 850,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia, and 69% of those live in care homes. Of the total care home population, 70% have dementia. Care homes were hit particularly hard by covid-19, which meant that of the total number of people who have died directly from the virus, a shockingly large proportion – 27.5% – had dementia.
Since March, care homes have been in lockdown. This makes life particularly hard for those who are suffering from dementia and for their families. I’ve had messages from many constituents documenting the problems they’ve had – and the heartbreak at not being able to see their friends or family members who are residents in care homes.
The current guidance does allow for family visits but the requirement for floor-to-ceiling screens and separate entrances often makes this impossible. The closed “window visits” that are also suggested in the guidance also provide no meaningful social contact between care home residents and their visitors, and video or phone calls can be confusing and distressing.
For those suffering from dementia, social isolation has consequences for their condition. Without exercising their cognitive skills, it makes it far more likely they will lose them. The number of excess deaths caused by coronavirus is hard to establish exactly, but between January and July of this year deaths from dementia were 52% higher than usual. It’s not unreasonable to infer that these deaths are in no small part due to the lockdown conditions, and the social isolation imposed on care home residents with dementia.
It’s so important that the support networks are in place for people with dementia throughout the pandemic. That’s why I support the Alzheimer’s Society’s call to allow for at least one informal carer per care home resident to be designated a key worker, with access to training, COVID-19 testing/ vaccinations and PPE.
I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, outlining the concerns I’ve expressed here, and calling for the measures to facilitate safe visiting and maintaining social contact to be included in the inspection framework of care homes. You can read my letter here.