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Dementia care in a pandemic: ‘Dad asked me if we were at war’

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Teena Gates bought seeds for planting and organised projects to keep her dad, Terry Martin (95), occupied during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite all of this preparation, caring for her father – who has vascular dementia – during Covid-19 has been far more difficult than she anticipated.

Gates struggled with the restrictions on movement, because it meant her usual tools to relax, such as sea swimming, were no longer permitted due to distance.

On top of that, her father could no longer attend day care, which allowed him to socialise, and also provided Gates with a break from caring.

“I actually ended up in hospital. It turned out to be a stress-related stomach bug,” she says. “It would appear that I have developed irritable bowel syndrome. I got treated for that but it has been a recurrent factor ever since.”

Carers for people with dementia have noticed a deterioration in the people they care for, as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. Gates said she has also noticed a decline in her father’s behaviour.

“I can’t leave my dad alone, he has to be watched 24/7. I can’t even go to the toilet with the door closed, that’s how intense it is,” she explains. “Dad is now attached to me in an unhealthy way. If I leave the room, he’ll follow me.

“He has lost and gone backwards so much. Just recently, I went back to work on Saturday and I had carers with him for 10 hours. It didn’t go well. He got very upset, very distressed,” she adds. “That would not have been a problem [previously]. I was working a three-day week beforehand and had carers with him for three days.”

The reason why anybody does this is because we absolutely adore the person that we are caring for

Gates says that being a carer in non-pandemic times is “tough work”, and that she is “changing pads all night long . . . [and doesn’t] sleep very much.”

But adding Covid-19 to the equation has only exacerbated the magnitude and stress of caring, she explains, particularly because her father doesn’t fully understand the situation.

“I tried to shelter him initially about the virus and what was happening, but he started getting alarmed and asked me if we were at war,” she says.

“ He knew something was up. He’s 95 so he was very close to the second World War so I had to come clean and explain to him about the virus.”

She added: “He has become agoraphobic. He has now connected that with thinking it’s unsafe to go outside. I’m having difficulty getting him into the garden. He used to love the garden.”

Despite all of the challenges, Gates acknowledges that the work can be rewarding at times.

“The reason why anybody does this is because we absolutely adore the person that we are caring for,” she says.

“Seeing dad grinning and smiling at me, with his big blue eyes twinkling at me. Sometimes when he has a good meal, he licks his lips or smacks his lips noisily and will grin at me and say, ‘oh, that was lovely.’ That just warms my heart, it’s marvellous. Those moments are what you hang onto.”

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