Julie-Anne Casson, Dementia Support Worker in County Tyrone, shares how her team has adapted and adapted again to the pandemic.
Last spring, when what had been a scary piece of news from far-flung lands started to have a tragic impact on the communities we are part of, we closed our offices and began to work from home.
As we gathered around our kitchen tables, spare rooms or on the sofa, battling with pets, children and our own caring duties, we organised ways to continue to support people affected by dementia.
Our Community Support team started to make regular calls to many of the most vulnerable people using our services. Anouska, who manages them, created scrap and reminiscence books that could be discussed on the phone before being sent out to people. They loved this, looking forward to the next call when they could continue talking about them.
The dementia support workers also phoned people, advising them how to navigate through this part of their dementia journey.
These calls could be as frequent as required and lasted anywhere from five minutes to over an hour. We shared information about community support, visiting people in residential care and getting medical appointments.
A lot of learning
When other staff went on furlough, we got to know the people in their areas so we could offer them excellent support and advice too. We also took on managing Companion Call volunteers in places all over the UK. It took us a while to get our heads around things, but we learned an awful lot and were able to make a difference.
I especially remember one colleague, Howard, speaking in our team meeting about the challenges of his work combined with being a carer of someone living with dementia. I think this helped galvanise him and us as a team.
Zoom meetings are now commonplace. At a time when we are distant from each other, we are more connected than ever, sometimes by just the touch of a button.
One year on
Our calls and online sessions continue, and the Community Support team still keeps in touch with people who rely on our support. But some things have changed. We are hearing stories of resilience, and we are advising people of how to access vaccinations and to rearrange appointments that had been put on hold.
One year on, as the evenings are lengthening and the weather is dryer and milder, can we dare to be hopeful again? I think so. We have lost and we have learned. We know what is important and we know what is not.
The words of the poet Seamus Heaney have never been more relevant: ‘If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.’
We need your help
We can’t keep our phone lines open or manage the increase in demand for our services without urgent financial support. Please donate today – with your help, we can show people living with dementia that they aren’t alone.