Dementia Centred

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By Ailidh Aikman

June 22nd, 2021

Beating loneliness in a pandemic

The pandemic has been a huge adjustment for everyone. For those who traditionally went into an office it was now a commute to your makeshift office in your bedroom or dining table; keyworkers run off their feet with long exhausting shifts; and for others everything stopped, their place of work was closed for the foreseeable future. Grandparents were no longer able to cuddle their grandchildren. Parents had to home school. There were no pints down the pub with friends. Even dogs had to get used to the limited one allocated exercise slot a day, with all pets suddenly a little confused as to why their people where home. All. The. Time.

A lot of people found the adjustment a struggle. And rightly so, it’s a big change to suddenly be stuck at home not able to see family or friends. It was also an isolating and anxious time which had quite an impact on a lot of people’s mental health. There was a lot of worry for people of all ages as support services were shut and some of the most vulnerable were left without lifelines.

The pandemic really brought a whole new meaning to the digital age.

But it was also a time of self-care, self-reflection and self-improvement, in between the Netflix binges, zoom parties and quizzes. There was the Thursday ‘clap’ which brought many neighbours together (socially distanced, of course) and let’s not forget the late Captain Tom inspiring the nation with his 100th birthday challenge.

Early research during the pandemic focused on loneliness and how people were coping, however it has been noticed that there have been positive outcomes too.

The University of Stirling conducted research in this field and noted that one group to benefit were the over 60’s, who had turned to apps to socialise. Research also suggests that many people in this age group used lockdown as an opportunity to reconnect; both with neighbours, their communities and friends.

Anna Whittaker, a professor of behavioural medicine who led the study, said: ''Our research found that the Covid-19 lockdown triggered feelings of loneliness in older people - with many experiencing less social contact and support. However the study also highlighted positive outcomes, for example lockdown encouraged some older people to embrace and engage with technology - such as Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime - to stay in touch with loved ones or participate in exercise classes or religious groups. Those who engaged in such activity were able to prevent high levels of loneliness, therefore helping older adults to increase their digital literacy and use of remote social interactions could be a really important tool for addressing loneliness.''

This research is really encouraging and, although not undertaken to look at the impact on people living with dementia and their family and carers, it opens the conversation as to what else could we do to embrace the digital age and reduce feelings of isolation for this group.