"It was clearly imperative that we adapted quickly, which is something our sector excels in."
For 40 years, Alzheimer Scotland has been making sure nobody faces dementia alone. Between running the UK’s only 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline, campaigning for change and providing vital support in our communities, we have made it our priority to make sure people know we’re here for them at every stage of a dementia diagnosis, whether you’re a person with dementia, a carer or family member. We have 21 Dementia Resource Centres which offer friendly, accessible environments for everyone to enjoy. Whether you want to pop in for some information, advice or support, our friendly staff and volunteers will be able to help you. Each Dementia Resource Centre is also a base for our wide range of local groups and activities and a Dementia Advisor, who provides emotional and practical support, information and signposting to people with dementia and carers, as well as working with local communities to become more dementia friendly.
Many of the people Alzheimer Scotland supports either fall under the coronavirus ‘shielding’ category or the ‘high risk’ category – the restrictions of which have had a significant impact on their, and their families’, wellbeing. Routines have changed, access to the usual formal and informal networks of support have been temporarily halted and, for carers, there isn’t the same level of respite that they may have benefited from ordinarily. We also know that many families are noticing the symptoms of dementia are being exacerbated in their loved ones. It was clearly imperative that we adapted quickly, which is something our sector excels in, and ensured that our support was still easily accessible.
Our 24 hour Freephone Dementia Helpline can often be the first port of call for people who need information and emotional support. There is a vast amount of coronavirus-based information publicly available, however people with dementia have a very specific set of needs. In anticipation, we increased the number of staff supporting our frontline volunteers on the Helpline and used the key themes coming through during calls to create a coronavirus information hub (this link will take you away from our website) on our website.
We have also moved many of our physical groups and activities online. People can now access groups like Carers Conversations or Musical Reminiscence through an online platform and are being supported by Alzheimer Scotland staff to use digital technology if they’re uncertain. Our website also has many short activity videos that people can participate in, in their own time. On top of this we are offering telephone befriending to ensure people remain connected to our charity. We are also providing one-to-one home support in certain areas, as an alternative option for some people who used our day services.
Many of the people we support will continue to have restrictions on their lives and our challenge is to continue to offer high quality, person-centred support when we know the significant impact this will have. We have written to the Scottish Government to seek permission and agreement to open up our Dementia Resource Centres (this link will take you away from our website) which would provide the opportunity for one or two people at any one time to attend a local centre and participate in individual therapeutic activity. It would also provide carers and families with a much-needed short period of respite. This will require the highest level of safe social distancing practice and cross infection controls and we are confident that our local staff and volunteer teams can do this.
Digitally, we will continue to grow and adapt our online support, which includes the launch of an Alzheimer Scotland app. Face to face support and social connection is vital for many people. We are determined to keep those connections and our staff are embracing digital technology. When we reach a new normal, and our Centres re-open, we hope that people will still use our online activities as an additional form of support.
There is no doubt this pandemic is having a detrimental impact on our income. Much of our support, including our Dementia Resource Centres and our Dementia Advisors, is funded through kind donations and fundraising events. We will have challenges to overcome in the next few months but we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of our supporters during this time.