Our Executive Lead for Localities, Geraldine Ditta, reflects on the way our frontline teams have supported people with dementia and their families and carers since March 2020, pays tribute to our wonderful volunteers, and looks to the future of Alzheimer Scotland's support and services.
Like many other frontline services, there was a critical and urgent need for all face to face contacts; community activity groups, day care and Dementia Resource Centres to close from March 2020 in response to Scottish Government guidelines. In this new and frequently changing landscape, our aims in localities were to ensure people with dementia and carers still felt supported and could trust that Alzheimer Scotland was still there for them. Given the frequent changes, often daily in the COVID-19 guidance from Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and other statutory bodies, our frontline teams and services responded and adapted to ensure quality supports were still delivered, albeit in a new way, as well as ensuring the safety of the people we support plus our staff & volunteers was maintained.
Our frontline staff teams responded in the most flexible and creative ways as services evolved throughout the year; increasing our digital supports as well as safely re-introducing face to face supports as guidance allowed – then having to stand down those supports when circumstances changed yet again. At all times, our local teams kept people supported, informed, and included in those changes.
We received just under 7,000 enquiries to our locality teams, and 68% of these enquiries came directly from carers relating to the carer role, carer stress, emotional support and coping with stress & distress. This clearly demonstrates the significant needs of carers during this period. 10% of enquiries came from people living with dementia, enquiring about our services. The remaining enquiries came from other stakeholders including Health & Social Care professionals and other voluntary organisations.
Almost 50,000 interventions in total were delivered, with an average of 12,500 per quarter, and these included online social and peer support groups, delivery of activity and self-care packs, support calls, one-to-one video calls and wellbeing home visits.
Approximately 31,000 supportive telephone calls were made averaging around 2,500 each month. In the main, these calls started out brief, however over time became longer as relationships and trust built with this new model of support.
We delivered over 3,000 personalised activity packs to provide activity ideas and cognitive stimulation and ultimately remind people that we were still there for them. Packs included materials that tied in with people’s individual interests and hobbies, ranging from seed kits to self-care items.
Despite many initial teething problems, over 5,000 digital online groups were facilitated, including carer support groups, virtual cafés, afternoon quizzes, doggie bingo, virtual nature learning, carers education sessions, games afternoons and musical mornings.
We have taken a person-centred approach to all the support we have offered throughout this time to ensure we meet the needs of each individual, for example sending Alzheimer Scotland activity DVDs for those who are less digitally connected, as well as making successful bids to Connecting Scotland to secure devices to support people living with dementia. Over 300 devices were received and, following a risk assessment process, were set up in individual’s homes.
Not all supports had to move online. Following agreements from Scottish Government and the Care Inspectorate, we sought to deliver an alternative, interim wellbeing home visit service for the most vulnerable of those who had previously attended a day care service. Alzheimer Scotland subsequently sought approval from commissioners across Scotland. This service was fully risk assessed, with measures in place according to current guidelines at that time and updated as required. We were successful in securing agreement in Dumfries & Galloway, Dundee, Western Isles, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, where we safely delivered just under 3,000 wellbeing visits throughout the year and without incident. This is a testament to the level of commitment and adherence to the guidelines and necessary measures including PPE and self-testing for COVID by our local teams. These visits have been maintained throughout the year, including the national lockdown over the festive period. Criteria was adjusted over the festive period to allow the most vulnerable to not lose this critical support at that time.
Our Croftspar service team continued to support tenants to remain safely in their own homes, keep in touch with families, albeit digitally at times, as well as maintain morale at a time when tenants could not access the local community as they were used to. Through adherence to guidance and undertaking a full risk assessment, they supported one tenant to have his wish granted of having Christmas dinner with his family.
The support we have been offering has been described as a lifeline by many families and in some cases has prevented crisis, emotional distress and loneliness. I would like to share some feedback from the people we have supported:
- “I just wanted to thank you personally for all your help with Mum. You have been so kind and been a tremendous support. I know that I would have struggled a lot without your support.”
- “Since my husband has been receiving the companion calls it has allowed me to have an hour to myself, to shower or catch up on housework. I love to listen to my husband singing with his companion, it’s just like the old days when he was in a choir”
- “Mum may not remember exactly the activities she participated in but she always has a big smile on her face and a spring in her step when I pop in at night – Thank you so much”
- “Football memories every Wednesday has been brilliant!! A big thank you to them and everyone who has made Lockdown a bit easier.”
- “I really look forward to this call. It’s lonely with the wife being in care and I miss the company.”
- “I’ve felt abandoned, so it’s so good that you have got in touch” • “Thanks so much for keeping in touch with us - you don’t know what you have until it is taken away from you”
- “Whenever anyone asks me how I cope with my diagnosis of dementia I tell them about Alzheimer Scotland and how much you help. Everyone is so nice”
- “Alzheimer Scotland are the only consistent service. Thank you so much for always being available”
Our experienced volunteers have been a consistent point of contact which has improved people’s mood, stimulated their mind, and safeguarded their general wellbeing. Feedback from people with dementia and their families has highlighted to us that calls have been something to look forward to each week, which has been especially important in the context of lockdown. We have been told that volunteers bring news of the outside world – near and far – which has helped people remain connected to their communities. We know from feedback that, in the process of getting to know the people they are calling, volunteers have created a unique space for a wide-ranging exploration of peoples’ memories, as well as topical conversation. What our volunteers have proved is that in a world where normal face-to-face contact is prohibited, the simple, elemental sound of a kind and empathetic voice is amplified beyond all measure, and we are ever grateful to every one of them for their dedication and commitment.
Now, over 15 months since the country went into lockdown, we are looking to the future. This includes blending our current digital offerings with face-to-face support, as they return. You can read more about our re-openings here. With an increase in flexibility and more choice of supports, including the launch of the UK’s first Virtual Resource Centre for people with dementia and their families and carers, Alzheimer Scotland will continue to do all we can to make sure nobody faces dementia alone.