Around eight in 10 care home managers have seen residents’ health and wellbeing deteriorate due to a lack of social contact during lockdown, a survey suggests.
People with dementia are feeling confused and abandoned by the lack of visits from loved ones, losing the ability to speak and “disappearing”, the Alzheimer’s Society said.
Care home staff told the charity people at the end of their lives are “declining at a faster rate than normal”, while others are losing weight because they are not eating or drinking like they used to.
Of 128 care homes, 126 of which care for people with dementia, 79% said residents’ health and wellbeing had suffered when surveyed between April 30 and May 21.
Fears about care homes is the biggest concern from relatives calling the charity’s Dementia Connect support line, who are helplessly watching as their loved ones lose their skills and memories “at a terrifying rate”.
We’ve already seen the devastating effect of coronavirus on people with dementia who catch it, but our survey reveals that the threat of the virus extends far beyond thatKate Lee, Alzheimer’s Society
One man said: “If lockdown continues, I’m really fearful my wife won’t be able to recognise me at the end of all this.”
Kate Lee, the Alzheimer’s Society’s chief executive, said: “It’s horrendous that people with dementia have been dying in their thousands, worst hit by coronavirus.
“We’ve already seen the devastating effect of coronavirus on people with dementia who catch it, but our survey reveals that the threat of the virus extends far beyond that.
“We have to stem the dreadful loss of life for those who were neglected at the start of this crisis – with a threadbare social care system already on its knees, ill-equipped to protect them.”
Around a quarter of people who died with coronavirus in England and Wales in March and April also had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the charity said, citing figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Deaths of people with dementia that were not linked to Covid-19 in April were 83% higher than usual for that period in England, it added.
The charity believes these deaths are partly due to increased cognitive difficulties brought on by isolation, a reduction in essential care as family carers cannot visit and depression.
Three-quarters of the care homes surveyed said GPs had been reluctant to visit residents, suggesting interruption to usual health services may also have played a part.
It is calling on the Government to issue guidance to care homes on the importance of social contact, prioritise family carers for antibody tests and ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and visitors.
And it wants a Dementia and Coronavirus Taskforce to be set up to guarantee the safety of people with dementia through any easing of the lockdown and in case of a second spike.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are doing everything we can to protect the elderly and vulnerable during this unprecedented pandemic.
“While we understand limiting visits in care homes is difficult for many families and residents who want to see their loved ones, all our guidance is designed with care users in mind and to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.
“We are prioritising testing for homes that specialise in caring for older people and those living with dementia in line with PHE and SAGE advice and are on track to offer tests to every care home for the over 65s in England by 6 June. In the face of huge global demands, we are also working around the clock so care homes continue to have the PPE they need.”