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Working in a Dementia-Specialist Care Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic – A Medical Student’s Insight

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Working in a Dementia-Specialist Care Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic – A Medical Student’s Insight

As my fourth year of medical school came to an abrupt end due to the pandemic, I was sent off back to my home in Cambridgeshire with little idea of what was to happen over the next few months. I found myself without the structure and purpose that I was used to having so begun searching for jobs. A family friend highlighted to me that a local dementia-specialist care home, where her mother is a resident, was recruiting for care assistants. I felt this would be a fantastic opportunity to give back to the more vulnerable members of society as well as developing skills which I hope to make me a better doctor in the future.

Lots of things have changed in the care home since the start of the pandemic, and understandably, this is challenging for many of the residents. Family members now unable to visit, restrictions on numbers of residents out of their bedrooms, staff wearing masks, reduced activities – to name just a few. Now, for you and I the changes in daily life as a result of the pandemic have been vast and it has been challenging. Yet for the residents with dementia, they are experiencing this dramatic change without being able to understand the reasoning. On numerous occasions, residents have become frustrated with me and said ‘you’re just making this up!’ and I can understand why they feel this way; it is almost unbelievable, a story out of a book, not real life.

Other residents have been frustrated that the staff are wearing masks – ‘I can’t understand a word you say with that silly thing on your face. If I can’t understand you there’s no point in you even speaking’. Despite efforts to speak loudly and clearly, the mask takes away the ability for residents to read your emotions and facial expressions and is particularly challenging for those hard of hearing. Although it is essential to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus within the home, it places a large barrier to communication between staff and residents and limits the ability to form a good rapport.

I have had conversations with residents who feel ‘abandoned’ by their family, ‘left there alone to die’. In reality, family are unable to visit to protect their loved ones and are most likely struggling at home with the fact they can’t visit. However, this is not often understood or retained by the residents. The care home has been fantastic in setting up video-calls and phone calls however, due to the age of the residents and their cognitive ability, many struggle to communicate effectively or understand who they are speaking to.

A memorable event for me was when one resident was unhappy that I had sat her over two metres apart from another resident who she is good friends with. I explained to her the reasoning for this however, when I returned with a drink a few minutes later she said to me in a rather harsh voice ‘that better not have any virus on it’ as though I was to blame for the current situation.

Supporting residents with dementia during this pandemic has given me a really good insight into the impact of a pandemic, and of changes to routine, for people living with dementia. It has really put things into perspective and I feel very grateful that I am able to understand the reasons for the changes due to COVID-19. I look forward to when times begin to normalise and the residents are able to see their loved ones again.

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