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Over half of family carers report a decline in mental health during pandemic

The new research published by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland say that it found family carers to be at “breaking point”.

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FAMILY CARERS OF people with dementia report a “significant” decline in mental and physical health during the pandemic.

54% of family carers reported a decline in their mental health, while 40% reported a decline in physical health.

The new research, Caring and Coping with Dementia during Covid-19, was published today by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) and found family carers to be at “breaking point”.

The report highlights the challenges faced by family carers of people with dementia during Covid-19 and the “urgent need for access to support services”.

Family carers’ need for practical supports rose by 70% in the last year, according to the research.

A further 81% of carers said they were concerned about the decline of the person with dementia they are caring for.

54% are worried about how they will continue to cope, while 44% say they feel less able to cope.

Helen Higgins, a family carer from Cork, said the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for her and her husband, whom she cares for. She said her husband’s care needs have increased since the beginning of Covid and that he found restrictions hard, such as understanding social distancing rules.

She said her health was impacted during this time also.

“It has been so isolating,” she said. “I feel we have been the forgotten people during Covid-19.”

Another carer, Aisling Harmon from Wicklow, said her mother’s day-care and community services were cut off overnight.

“The world went online, but homecare couldn’t,” she said.

“We are so vulnerable and have been left unprotected [...] It still feels like carers are invisible and have no voice.”

28% of family carers reported considering a move to long-term care for the person with dementia. 65% said this had become a consideration sooner due to the pandemic.

CEO of ASI, Pat McLoughlin said carers need access to emotional supports, including counselling services.

The research shows “the enormous sacrifices family carers have made in order to protect those they care for”, according to McLoughlin.

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“The fact that there was no prioritisation of family carers in the vaccine roll out has left these people feeling abandoned. There were even cases of suicide risk reported among family carers.”

He also said that many people with dementia have experienced irreversible deterioration during the pandemic. 

He said that day care centres and social clubs need to be opened safely and urgently.

The ASI made a number of other recommendations, including the provision of necessary funds arising from public health guidelines for day care reopenings, provision of additional and appropriate dementia home care hours, and to pilot and develop a Statutory Home Care scheme.

Some of the services a Statutory Home Care scheme could provide include the financing and regulation of home support services.

In December last year, it was announced that the introduction of a Statutory Home Care scheme, first announced in 2018, will be pushed back to 2022 because of the pandemic.

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions which cause changes and damage to the brain. There are currently 64,000 people in Ireland living with dementia and there are 11,000 new cases each year.

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