Dementia charity urge family carers are given same access to coronavirus tests as key workers

Family carers should be given key worker status and regular coronavirus tests, a charity has said, as dementia sufferers’ symptoms continue to worsen.

More than four in five adults with dementia, or their carers, reported memory, speech and the ability to perform daily tasks deteriorating during lockdown, the Alzheimer’s Society said.

Around half of these said memory or concentration had worsened, according to the survey of 1,831 people.

A third said speaking and understanding speech had become more difficult, and more than a quarter (28%) had seen a loss in the ability to perform tasks such as cooking or getting dressed.

Family members who care for relatives with dementia living in care homes or at home should be given the same regular access to tests as key workers, the charity believes.

It is part of a coalition of leading dementia charities calling for family carers to be seen as equal partners in care, which would guarantee them access to visit their loved ones in care homes.

Care home residents and people with dementia in their own homes have experienced months of social isolation and disruption as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Long-awaited guidance from the Government on safely resuming care home visits was issued last week, but the charities are concerned that it places responsibility on individual providers, risking a postcode lottery in access.

It wants the Government to make it clear that family carers are “an integral part of the care system” and acknowledge that care and wellbeing suffers when they are removed.

Paula Saunderson described seeing a marked difference over lockdown in her mother Pat, who is 88 and has dementia, limited mobility, incontinence and heart failure.

The 65-year-old, from Newbury in Berkshire, who cares for her mother full-time, said: “Before lockdown we would get out of the house every day, but now she’s lost her stamina from being stuck inside, and is sleeping much more. Her only stimulation has been watching birds on the patio.

“She has lost all motivation and it’s getting harder to get her interested in things. Lockdown has been a very slow and weary period for us both.

“I don’t want to move Mum into a care home, but with her symptoms getting worse it’s looking more and more likely.”

Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Kate Lee said: “With the right support, many people with dementia can continue living independently for years but the pandemic is robbing them of that chance.

“Make no mistake: people with dementia are at huge risk from a second wave if we don’t take urgent steps to protect them.

“It’s encouraging that the Government has recognised the importance of social contact for those in care homes but they have to ensure family carers are seen as equal partners in care with key workers – and the thousands of people living with dementia in the community mustn’t be forgotten, ensuring their families are given the regular testing they need to visit safely.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We want to make this the best country in the world to live with dementia and are doing everything we can to protect those most at risk during this unprecedented pandemic.

“We are providing over half a million pounds in financial support to the Alzheimer’s Society for their Dementia Connect programme, which is offering vital support for people with dementia and their families during the pandemic, and have recently updated our care home visiting guidance so people are able to see loved ones safely.”

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