I hope you are all safe and healthy. Tuesday 23 March signified one year since the UK went in to its first lockdown and, alongside the rest of the country, Alzheimer Scotland marked the National Day of Reflection with a minute’s silence to honour those who lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. As I’ve written before, the impact on the dementia community has been devastating, and the families of those who lost a loved one over the last year are never far from our thoughts. We must also reiterate just how grateful we are to every frontline worker who has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty. They are remarkable, and we are truly indebted to each of them.

Whilst many of us would not have thought we would still be in lockdown a year later, I am pleased to be writing to you with a degree of hope and optimism after the most recent First Minister’s update, where she outlined a steady plan out of lockdown. Whilst we still have some way to go, it does feel that we can begin to look forward, both with this route map and the continued success of the vaccination programme. The most recent news that unpaid carers are entitled to self-register for the vaccination was a really positive step; we have regularly heard of the frustrations’ carers have felt being unable to access the vaccination, so this was welcome news. You can self-register here.

Last month, we promised we would update you on the re-opening of our supports. Since then we have received approval to re-commence several of our small-scale day services. We were delighted to see people living with dementia returning to the Dundee and Falkirk day care services during March. Following further agreements, the Mid Lothian day service and both day services in Glasgow will re-open later in March, and the first week of April. We anticipate further agreements will follow, to ensure people get the support they so desperately need. Work is also ongoing to ensure face to face visits with our Link Workers and Dementia Advisors recommence as soon as possible and all of our online support, telephone support and essential wellbeing visits will continue to ensure people remain supported during the transition back to face to face support.

It was great to see our Action on Rights team, funded by Scottish Government, launched at the beginning of March. The team are there for the families and loved ones of anyone living in a care home (not just those with dementia) to help facilitate meaningful visits, explain the Open with Care guidance and offer emotional and practical support to families and friends of people living in care homes who are experiencing high levels of anxiety and trauma as a result of the lack of meaningful contact. Since the service’s launch, the team have dealt with many complex enquiries. The majority of the people getting in touch have experienced emotional distress from the lack of meaningful visits, and there has been a common theme in the variances of care homes implementing the new guidance and the communication being received. In these instances, the team have been helping people to confidently understand the current guidance to help them have positive conversations with the care home, as well as providing emotional support and signposting on to other available support,

This month we also recruited two counsellors to form our National Dementia Counselling Service and one dedicated post for younger persons. We are absolutely clear that this will be a vital level of increased support for many people who have experienced such significant levels of loss and grief and have had to bear an inordinate level of stress and distress as a result of the pandemic. Whilst some people will have support mechanisms in place, others may not, and the Counselling Service will be here for you if you need it. If you think this would be of benefit to you, please get in touch with your local Dementia Advisor or local service.

As some of you will know, in January 2019 Alzheimer Scotland launched our Fair Dementia Care campaign to end the inequities faced by people with advanced dementia and their families. It was, and remains, one of the most significant campaigns that we have ever undertaken. Since then, over 18,000 of you have signed up to support Fair Dementia Care which is just wonderful – thank you. We’re in the process of launching the next phase of our campaign ahead of the 2021 Scottish Elections, and we’re asking candidates from all political parties to pledge their support by committing to:

  • Ensuring that every person with advanced dementia, living in a care home, has an individual assessment of their health and nursing care needs.   
  • Support an increase in Free Personal and Nursing Care payments to a level which is equal to the actual cost of the care people with advanced dementia need.   

If you would like to help support this pledge, please write to/email your local candidate and ask them to support our campaign. All details on how to do so are here. People with advanced dementia need, and deserve, to be treated equally, and you can help to make a difference.

I have never been prouder of all of our staff and volunteers in Alzheimer Scotland for the way they have continued to adapt and innovate over the last year. Whilst it has been an immense challenge, I am hopeful we are at the beginning of more positive times and I strongly believe that, between our existing and new services, the support we offer will continue to make a direct difference to the thousands of people living with a dementia diagnosis, their carers and families. As always, if you need information or emotional support, our Freephone Dementia Helpline is here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (0808 808 3000).

Best wishes