In March, at the beginning of lockdown, we joined a team of researchers to explore the effects of COVID-19 related closures of social care services on the lives and well-being of older people, people living with dementia and their family carers.
Social support services can provide an important lifeline to support people to live well and engage socially. Even prior to the pandemic, access to dementia care varied with sociodemographic characteristics such as gender, area deprivation and ethnicity.
There is research to indicate that the mental health of the general UK population has declined since the onset of the pandemic and the associated social changes. However, to our knowledge, this is the first study of mental health and wellbeing that has specifically recruited people living with dementia, their family carers, and older people; and the first to explore how availability of social services for people living with dementia has changed with the pandemic.
Led by Dr Clarissa Giebel at the University of Liverpool, the survey was completed by 569 people; 223 older adults, 61 people living with dementia and 285 family carers.
We found that as a result of COVID-19 related public health restrictions, nearly all forms of social support services including day care centres, peer support groups, and social activities in the community, have had to stop face-to-face service provision, at least temporarily. Among our sample, over a third received no support at all pre-COVID, while the majority of people were found to not receive any form of social support since COVID.
For those who had received social support services pre-COVID, reductions in weekly social support service hours reduced levels of well-being in carers and older adults and increased anxiety in people living with dementia and older adults.
Social support services are vital to support the mental well-being of older adults and people affected by dementia. Our research demonstrated a link between COVID-related service loss and detrimental impacts on these vulnerable groups. With public health restrictions such as social distancing likely to stay in place for some time to come, it is important to find ways to adapt these services to seeking alternative ways to re-provide support to meet the needs of those requiring social support.
People who took part in this survey were also asked to complete it at two other times during lockdown and we are currently analysing this data and will soon publish the findings of how people’s mental health has been affected by these closures over time.
You can access the full paper here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/gps.5434
Written by Kathryn Lord