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Lockdown isolation harms Kiwis with dementia

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Trevor (surname withheld) has experienced first-hand the heavy toll New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdowns take on dementia patients.

Trevor’s wife of nearly 60 years, Gill, was diagnosed with dementia four years ago and has lived in residential care in an Auckland facility for three and a half years. Over the past 18 months alert level changes have prevented Auckland-based Trevor from visiting Gill, causing a noticeable decline in her health.

Now he wants to see the Ministry of Health make changes to the rules to protect and better support Kiwis living with dementia.

"I want to make the point to the Minister of Health that people with dementia are really suffering because of the isolation.

"In my opinion, it should be a top priority that these people have their loved ones come to see them."

During alert level 1 Trevor visits Gill daily and even brings her home a few days a week.

"I visit every day twice a day. I go in the morning and stay to feed her lunch. After lunch she goes back to bed and I go home. In the evenings I return to help her with dinner, I change her into pyjamas and stay until she goes to bed.

"I bought a small car and made it wheelchair accessible. Around four days a week I bring her home for a couple of hours and every Sunday she comes home for a roast lunch with our two sons."

The couple also have a daughter who lives in Australia.

However, during alert levels three and four Gill’s care home is completely closed to visitors, and strict regulations during alert level two mean Trevor can visit for just half an hour two days a week. After each lockdown Trevor notices a decline in Gill as well as the other residents.

"They go downhill very quickly. After the first big lockdown when I was finally able to visit Gill, she didn't even know me anymore and she was very confused. It took several days to bring her around.

"I spend a lot of time around the other residents too and I could clearly see the difference in everybody. The staff also agreed that the residents had all gone downhill."

While technology allows many of us to keep in touch with, and even see, our loved ones during lockdown, Gill doesn’t speak much and has lost her sight.

"I talk to her every night to try and keep us sane. Sometimes she doesn't talk back to me so I play her little nursery rhymes or music. It's very hard."

Trevor is very happy with the care Gill receives. He understands the strict precautions are to protect residents and says the staff "deserve a medal". He would however like to see a relaxation of the rules from the Ministry of Health.

"I think resthomes should allow each patient to have one designated visitor who is fully vaccinated. I would like to see this come into effect during level three, and I don't see why there should be such strict restrictions at level two, other than you have to be vaccinated.

"I’m happy to wear a mask, sanitise my hands, have my temperature checked or anything else to increase safety.

"People like me who are older and living alone are low-risk visitors. We are not out in the community."

Trevor also stresses that lockdown is hard for caregivers too.

"I’ve known my wife for over 60 years and now I can't even go and see her. Somewhere along the line, the Ministry of Health has got to realise this is difficult and do something about it."

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