Coronavirus restrictions on care homes had a huge impact on Tanya’s Dad, Alex, who was living with dementia. Tanya reflects on her Dad’s experience of the care system, and the fundraising she is doing to raise awareness.
My Dad, Alex, suddenly passed-away in July due to the awful impact that Covid is having on residents living in care homes.
Two years ago, as Dad’s dementia progressed to a level where we just couldn’t look after him at home, he moved into a care home in Farnham. He was ticking along nicely with his routine where either my Mum, me, or our lovely friend Sharon, would visit him every day. We used to take him out for walks to feed the ducks in the park or do puzzles and this was his daily routine throughout his time there. It meant he was able to lead a reasonably happy life - until Covid hit and restrictions were enforced.
These blanket restrictions meant that we couldn’t visit Dad and his life turned upside down. He couldn’t understand why we weren’t visiting him and why he couldn’t go out (his window looked out onto a path where he saw everyone doing their daily exercise). He was incredibly confused and anxious, and this made his dementia worse, which led to him leaving the home several times. Each time, the police were involved, and I know this scared Dad so he started to become aggressive. We did everything we could to help him. I tried visiting via the window, but he didn’t understand why he couldn’t come out - I was able to sit with him outside, two metres apart, but with his poor hearing he couldn’t hear me, so he got frustrated.
Changes in Dad
Dad’s mental health was at an all-time low, which was exacerbated by a severe lack of vitamin D as he was refusing to eat. I pushed to get him assessed by his doctor and a psychiatrist. Instead of a doctor, a community nurse was sent, and the doctor prescribed him a sedative over the phone. We felt this was a lot to give him in one go, especially on top of his other medication, but we went with it. The community nurse said that she could see that Dad was very anxious and sad, and that he should not be moved from the home if at all possible.
A few days later, I was able to get a Mental Health Assessment, via WhatsApp, for Dad. I kept saying that he would need to be seen face-to-face, but this was the only way it could be done.
Dad didn’t understand (his hearing was very poor and his verbal communication was severely impaired, which meant he couldn’t find his words) and being on a sedative made him very sleepy and dazed, so he didn’t respond to the screen assessment.
Again, I pushed and pushed to get more input and the psychiatrist said that she would contact me in a week to see how Dad was after starting his medication. After this assessment, the home let me spend the whole morning with Dad and then Sharon spent all afternoon with him - he was so much brighter with our input. I said to the home that although I was hunting high and low for a new home, that I really didn’t want to move him and that I was willing to pay for a full-time, one-to-one carer to be with him. The home wasn’t able to do this as it was too hard to find someone. However, we hoped that with his medication and vitamin D (along with our input and bringing in food that I knew he liked, to encourage him to eat) that he would start to improve and feel more settled. We were happy to do whatever it took.
The day after his assessment, Dad took himself out for a walk and this was the beginning of the end. The paramedics and police were called, so I went zooming over and found him in the nearby park, quietly sitting on a bench, surrounded by carers, paramedics and the police - it was a very sad moment. I encouraged him to wander back to the home for a coffee. Once there, we saw an ambulance and the home advised me that if I wanted to get a full Mental Health Assessment for Dad, then I should go to hospital with him as this was the only way it was going to happen. So, we went.
When he was in hospital, I went in every day to be with him. Again, it was a stressful experience, but on his last day, when I got him transferred to his new home, I felt we were on the road to better things. I’d researched and visited so many homes, but due to Dad’s ‘aggression’ some of them were unsure whether they could accept him - this was so sad, because Dad had never been aggressive before and it was purely out of fear. However, I found a home that I felt would be the right match for him and they accepted him.
The problem with the homes I was talking to, was the lack of visiting rights and this really worried me, but I was cornered as they were all the same. I had to make the best decision I could, in the situation we were in. I felt I had done this, however, once he was moved, he died 12 days later.
Looking to the future
Before Covid-19, Dad was ticking along nicely. He was a very clever man and sadly, he was aware of what was going on with his brain - this makes it all worse, because I know he was really suffering and his mental health was being ‘smoothed over’ with drugs. It just makes me so sad and I wish we could have looked after him at home, but it was just too much and we were doing the best that we could in partnership with his first home.
I’ve just completed the Step Up for Dementia challenge to raise money for Alzheimer’s Society in memory of Dad. I did 850,000 steps in two months - so that’s 14,000 steps a day! I’ve raised £3,400 in donations! I initially thought I would raise about £500, but I’ve been overwhelmed with everyone’s generosity. I’ve received several donations from people I don’t know - they’ve seen me out walking and read my post on the village Facebook page. I’ve been blown away by the amount of support. Dad’s story has touched so many people and they really want to help make the changes that are so badly needed for people with dementia.