The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia and their community connections: An occupational therapist’s perspective
Executive Summary Current literature discusses how people living with dementia are more likely to experience loneliness than the rest of the general population (Vedavanam et al. 2020) and can find themselves feeling socially isolated and detached from community life (Alzheimer Scotland 2012). This risk of social isolation has been increased even further as self-isolation and social distancing rules were introduced as a result of COVID-19 (NHS 2020), a highly infectious disease that can cause respiratory illness and poses threat to life (World Health Organization 2021). These restrictions have impacted people’s ability to remain connected to their communities, something that is considered crucial to the wellbeing of people living with dementia. The Alzheimer Scotland 8 Pillar Model of Community Support (2012) discusses the importance of community connection, and how assisting people living with dementia to maintain and build on their existing social networks within the community can enhance their quality of life, sense of belonging and help to maintain maximum independence. If these community connections are not maintained, it could ultimately lead to significant negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of people living with dementia, and their ability to live independently (Davies 2020). A research project was conducted in collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland with the aim to further explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia and their community connections, from an occupational therapist’s perspective. As described on Alzheimer Scotland’s official website, “Alzheimer Scotland is Scotland’s national dementia charity. Our aim is to make sure nobody faces dementia alone. We provide support and information to people with dementia, their carers and families, we campaign for the rights of people with dementia and fund vital dementia research” (Alzheimer Scotland 2021, p.1). A generic qualitative design was adopted for the purpose of the project, and the interpretivist paradigm was implemented throughout. Two conversational interviews took place with allied healthcare professional leads from Alzheimer Scotland who have a professional qualification in occupational therapy, and through a general inductive analysis three themes were identified. These themes focused on understanding: • The experiences of people living with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to their community connections. • The strategies that were beneficial in supporting people living with dementia and their community connections. 2 • How occupational disruption has presented itself in relation to people living with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. The themes, and the discussion surrounding them, emphasises the importance of community-based occupation and community connection for people living with dementia. In addition, it also highlights how the social distancing restrictions implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of people living with dementia and has negatively impacted their physical and mental wellbeing. A conference abstract for the World Federation of Occupational Therapy Congress 2022 conference (2021) further highlighting these findings has been included and can be found in Appendix A. The abstract guidelines for this conference can be found in Appendix B. However, as the project was conducted on a small scale and was time-limited, there is scope for further research to be conducted to provide additional data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with dementia and their community connections.