Will I remember my daughters by next Christmas? asks NI man with worsening dementia

GRAEME COUSINS learns about a man with dementia whose condition has worsened because of the isolation of lockdown

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:24 pm
Barney Thompson feels his condition is deteriorating during lockdown

A 67-year-old living in Co Antrim in isolation from his two grown-up daughters fears he might not remember them by Christmas due to his worsening dementia.

Barney Thompson lives in Toomebridge with his wife Catherine. He was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia when he was 64.

The former traffic policeman has been shielding during lockdown because he has diabetes.

Barney and Catherine

The prolonged isolation from his daughters has led to a deterioration in Barney’s condition.

“We are both very aware we’re not getting this time back,” said Catherine.

“We’ve lost that now. We were supposed to go on holiday after our youngest daughter graduated, but that time has passed.

“Amy was due to come home for Christmas and then Boris Johnson called that off at the 11th hour. It was awful for all of us, but Barney devastated. He asked me ‘will I remember them next Christmas?’.

Barney was Trailblazer of the Year 2019

Their daughter Sophie is a stage manager who lives in Northern Ireland while Amy is a doctor at the London Free Hospital.

At the beginning of lockdown Barney felt his cognitive abilities were beginning to slip and he took the difficult decision to stop driving.

“It’s led to even more isolation. I can’t just get in the car and go to a place and meet people I know,” said Barney, who won the ‘Trailblazer of the Year Award’ at the 2019 Dementia Friendly Awards for the work he did helping make public spaces more dementia friendly.

He added: “[Lockdown] has cut me off from everything. I don’t have the freedom to just do something.”

Bernadine McCrory, NI Director at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Coronavirus has shattered the lives of so many people with dementia, worst hit by the pandemic – lives taken by the virus itself, and many more prematurely taken due to increased dementia symptoms and, in part, loneliness. Each one leaves behind a grieving family.

“Family carers, too, have been buckling under the strain. We urge the Government to support people affected by dementia whose lives have been upended, putting recovery plans in place, but also making the legacy of Covid-19 a social care system that cares for the most vulnerable when they need it.”

A staggering 700 people with dementia are estimated to have died from coronavirus in Northern Ireland since the pandemic hit the UK in full force in March 2020.

They are among more than 34,700 with the condition to have died across England, Wales and Northern Ireland from Covid-19.

A coalition of dementia organisations including Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia UK, John’s Campaign and TIDE (Together In Dementia Everyday), have come together to say never again will those affected face such hardship and loss.

Alzheimer’s Society’s investigation has shown the pandemic’s toll goes even further than deaths from the virus.

In a survey of 1,001 people who care for a family member, partner or someone close to them with dementia, an overwhelming 92% said the pandemic had accelerated their loved one’s symptoms.

The dementia coalition are calling for:

• A recovery plan with the needs of people affected by dementia at their heart.

• An end to blanket bans on care home visits where there is no active outbreak.

• A recognition that family carers are integral to the care system.

• Family carers to register their carer status with GP surgeries to ensure they get vaccination priority.

• Universal social care, free at point of use, providing quality care for every person with dementia who needs it.

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