New research from the University of Liverpool has quantified the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the availability of social support, finding that the crisis is taking a toll on the mental wellbeing of carers and those with dementia.
Across the UK, over 850,000 people currently live with dementia, with carers providing an estimated £13bn of unpaid care a year. The findings from a new UK-wide survey show that access to vital support services has reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing lower wellbeing and increased anxiety in people living with dementia.
The researchers are now calling for more practical and psychological support for people living with dementia and their carers during the ongoing public health restrictions.
The impact of COVID-19 on dementia patients and carers
Unpaid carers also reported having to pick up increased care hours as a result of support service closures, expressing concerns about when these services would re-open.
Lead researcher Dr Clarissa Giebel, a Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool, said: “Our research highlights the significant negative impacts that service closures are having on the lives of those affected by dementia. It is not viable to take away vital care any longer, and policy guidance needs to address how activities and daycare could be restarted based on individual circumstances in relation to COVID-19 risks and balancing them with the benefits of social support measures.
“Access to social support services, such as day centres, is crucial for the wellbeing of those who care for people with dementia. The coronavirus lockdown meant that these opportunities were suddenly taken away, leaving many carers providing 24/7 care and struggling to adapt.
“Furthermore, the benefits of care services cannot be substituted by a phone call from the daycare centre or a Zoom meeting, so there has been no easy way to meet this important need.
“Given that the pandemic is going to remain an issue for the foreseeable future, with various degrees of imposed and re-imposed public health restrictions, we recommend policymakers adapt social support services to refine the offer to boost the accessibility of care and support for vulnerable groups with high needs; of which people living with dementia and their carers are a large proportion.”
The study was funded by the University of Liverpool’s Covid-19 Strategic Research Fund and supported by the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration North West Coast, and the researchers worked with collaborators at UCLAN, Lancaster University, University of Bradford, and UCL.