Following the recent news of progress in the development of a vaccination for coronavirus, and the small-scale reopening of our Dundee Resource Centre, I am writing to you with a degree of positivity and hope.
I take heart in the optimism of the experts involved in vaccine trials, bringing a glimmer of light as we all head into these winter months. A vaccine is everything we have all hoped for, and until then, we will do all we can to support, and protect, the thousands of people in Scotland who rely on our vital services.
Over the pandemic, we have continued to support people with dementia and their families and carers through therapeutic interventions, including video calls, telephone support calls, online groups and wellbeing visits, supporting individuals who have significant and very distressing forms of crisis. We have managed to maintain our post-diagnostic support and have learned a great deal about how to provide an online, digital and blended approach to post diagnostic support.
The pandemic has exacerbated our intention to create the UK’s first Virtual Resource Centre. We’ve known for some time that offering the sanctuary of our Dementia Resource Centre’s within someone’s own home will help us to reach many more people and the last eight months have only served to highlight this further. I would like to thank everyone who is supporting our Virtual Brick Appeal for your kind words of encouragement, and to the hundreds of you who have bought a virtual brick, donating vital funds to help build this unique online space. The people we support, and those who support us, are the very foundations of this innovative service, which will give the opportunity for anyone, at any time, to participate in therapeutic activities, to connect with other groups and areas, and to have a sense of belonging through the Virtual Resource Centre. You can read more about the Virtual Resource Centre and the Virtual Brick Appeal here.
Despite our digital progress, we remain deeply concerned about the impact of a lack of face-to-face support and respite for people with dementia and their families. Following several months of negotiations to use Dementia Resource Centres for small scale therapeutic activities, I am delighted to report that a new model of day care started in Dundee in late October. It is the first of our 21 Centres to reopen its doors, with meticulous planning and safeguarding for our staff and the people we support. In a very safe and COVID compliant way, two or three individuals per session have been participating in small group support. This has given people with dementia the opportunity to participate in therapeutic activity whilst providing carers and families with a much-needed short period of respite. You can read more about the successful reopening here. Proposals have been submitted to replicate this in all of the services across Alzheimer Scotland. These are tentative steps and we must be more cautious in areas seeing an increase in cases, however the aim is to have this high quality, low volume, therapeutic support for people with dementia, and in turn providing essential respite for families.
I was very pleased to have recently met with the Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey MSP, along with several officials from the Scottish Government. This was an opportunity for Alzheimer Scotland to highlight the level of changing need, stress & distress and pressure placed on people with dementia and their families and carers, which is far greater than we could ever have expected. The Minister expressed her sincere thanks and gratitude to Alzheimer Scotland staff and volunteers for the ways we have adapted our services and doing our best for the people we support. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and COSLA to develop solutions for our dementia community, to discuss ways we can recover from the pandemic, but also meet these increased levels of need.
We have reviewed and collated the information from what people with dementia and carers have been telling our 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline and our frontline staff in the thousands of contacts they have had throughout this crisis. We also reviewed responses from two surveys that we asked our Dementia Advisors and Post Diagnostic Support Link Workers to complete in August and October. The survey asked them to tell us how the people with dementia and the carers they have been supporting in the community have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the public health restrictions. As a result of this evidence gathering, we will make clear recommendations to the Scottish Government, Health and Social Care Partnerships and other key stakeholders about how Scotland can ensure that the increased needs of people with dementia and carers are prioritised, to mitigate against the harms of this pandemic in the coming months.
We look forward to updating you on how the report and recommendations are received and any progress made. In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well.