I would like to extend my warmest wishes as we begin 2021. I’m sure the majority of us welcomed in a new year with mixed emotions. On one hand, we have the continued rollout of the coronavirus vaccination across Scotland which is a much-needed glimmer of hope, whilst at same time we face a new level of lockdown throughout the country.

The impact of lockdown measures on our community is immense and often hidden as we evidenced in our report COVID19: the hidden impact. Faced with the scale of the increasing rates of infection it is clear that we all need to support and work within these new public health measures until the vaccination takes effect. At the same time, we will be doing all that we can to mitigate the impact. Since the last lockdown we have learned a lot and we have developed a number of new ways of supporting people living with dementia, their families and carers and we now have an extremely strong platform of support in place.

This includes being able to support people with dementia and their families and carers and continuing to provide therapeutic interventions, through face to face video calls, telephone support calls, online groups and small-scale wellbeing visits for those individuals who have significant needs. Our Dementia Link Workers are still able to provide an online, digital approach to post diagnostic support and continue to work with new referrals as best they can using these formats.

We understand that not everyone has access to technology, which is why we have been seeking to ensure as many as people as possible have the devices they need to access our digital support. To this end we are delighted to have taken stock of an additional 200 iPads. These have been provided through the Connecting Scotland initiative and this brings our current total to 400 devices that we will be able to give to people through our locality staff.

However, we know that technology doesn’t work for everyone and that’s why we’ll never stop our telephone support and, where possible and necessary, direct one-to-one support.

Sadly, these new measures could again have a profound impact on people living in care homes and their families. We are reassured that the people living in care homes and care home staff have been prioritised to receive the vaccination. This, alongside new testing methods, had given us great hope that people could soon start to visit their loved ones, however the challenges of the new strain of the virus and measures look like further delaying this for many people.

There can be nothing more difficult and heart-breaking for those families who are in this position. We know and commend the work of many of our care homes who had made great strides in providing visits. We also know some others have struggled to achieve this for a variety of different reasons. This is why we have consistently called for every family member going through this to have a dedicated contact person. We take a significant number of calls from people who are in immeasurable pain because they can’t visit their loved one, and we also have contact with people who are frightened by their interpretation of the potential risks from visits. We accept that there is no easy answer or one single solution that will overcome these challenges and we are not experts in infection control or pandemic management. But what we do know and understand is that, at the heart of this, there are thousands of people who need support, help and time to understand & come to terms with all of the guidance. They also need direct support to help make visits possible when there are avoidable delays. We have called many times for this dedicated support to be provided and sadly it has not yet been agreed to. In the meantime, I want to reassure you that our Dementia Helpline, network of local Dementia Advisors and support staff stand ready to help you, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch at anytime 24 hours a day.  

As well as the pandemic, the winter weather and treacherous conditions of our local paths, the changing nature of our community infrastructures and opportunities to connect are all leading to potential isolation and loneliness for many people. Please don’t go through this on your own, pick up the phone to us and although we might not be able to see you face to face, we can help keep in touch and if needed link you in to other support. I would also encourage our members and supporters to pass on our Helpline number (0808 808 3000) and local contact details to anyone you think might benefit and help us make sure no on goes through this on their own.

Best wishes