People affected by dementia urgently need a national rehabilitation strategy

Judith Cummins
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

12 months on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m joining Alzheimer’s Society, TIDE, Dementia UK and John’s Campaign to remember the tens of thousands of people with dementia whose lives have been lost to Covid and to call for lasting change this Coronavirus Action Day.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed life for all of us beyond recognition. But for people affected by dementia – those living with the condition and those who love and care for them – coronavirus has taken a disproportionately heavy toll. 

Late last year, I met with Alzheimer’s Society to hear more about the extent of the challenge people affected by dementia have faced. Dementia has been the most frequent underlying condition in Covid-19 deaths during the pandemic. With more than quarter of deaths being people with dementia, it’s clear that they, and those that love and care for them, are among the worst hit by the pandemic. 

For those who have survived the pandemic, prolonged isolation, loneliness and a progression in symptoms have characterised their experience of Covid-19. Over the last year, I have heard from the loved ones of many of the estimated 5,500 people over 65 in Bradford who live with dementia about the devastating effect that Covid-19 has had on their lives. 

That’s why I share Alzheimer’s Society’s view that, as we emerge from this lockdown through the Prime Minister’s roadmap, people affected by dementia urgently need the government to step up with a national rehabilitation strategy to support their recovery. For people with dementia, this needs to come in the form of therapeutic support for both physical and cognitive skills; such interventions are necessary to try to retain some of their basic skills that risk slipping away from them permanently, such as the ability to walk, talk and swallow. 

Our family and friend carers have been exceptional over the last 11 months, but many are now on their knees with exhaustion and in desperate need for some support and respite. During the first peak of the pandemic, they devoted 92 million extra hours of care to people with dementia, providing invaluable personal care, emotional support and cognitive stimulation. This winter, they will have provided millions more hours of unpaid support to loved ones. At the same time, many will be also be facing the heartache of watching the dementia of those they care for grow ever more acute. They do this willingly for their loved ones.

People with dementia and those who support them to live well should be prioritised by the government as we move forward into the next phase of the pandemic. By implementing a national rehabilitation strategy, we must recognise the disproportionate impact, but also make up for the abandonment that so many who rely on social care will have felt or experienced during this time.

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