With vaccination rates for COVID-19 in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and Victoria approaching 80% double doses, health departments are easing or planning easing of social distancing restrictions. Some people are excited by the increased freedoms and are eager to socialise at pubs and clubs and go to the theatre and music events. However, some older people, especially those with underlying health issues, are still worried about catching and getting very sick or dying from COVID.
We know from research that everyone has been affected by lockdowns. Depression, anxiety and stress have been common. For people living with dementia and their carers, the restrictions and reduced services have been particularly hard. People with dementia have experienced loneliness, low mood, and declines in their thinking and memory. Carers have said that they’ve been doing more to support people with dementia, and also felt isolated and stressed.
Health risks for older people now restrictions are ending
Lifting of restrictions comes with the assumption that more people will get COVID. When vaccinated people get COVID they aren’t likely to get very sick, or die. The risk of dying from COVID in Australia is 0.4%. However, the risk is higher in older people, with the majority of COVID related deaths in older people with other medical conditions.
Since children 12-16 are not all vaccinated, and vaccinations aren’t been given to children under 12, authorities are expecting infections in schoolchildren. While children don’t usually get very sick, there is a risk that grandparents might catch COVID from their grandchildren.
Tips for how to get back into life after lockdown
- Take your time. Take a few weeks to get used to going out again.
- Prioritise activities. Do the things that are most important to you first, like seeing family, getting a haircut, or shopping for that thing you’ve been needing.
- Plan one activity rather than many on the same day. You might feel really tired after your first big outing, as you get used to being out in the world again.
- Choose lower COVID-risk activities if you’re concerned. If you are feeling worried, choose to do things which are lower risk. For instance, meet outside, or at home rather than in a café or restaurant. You might increase your social bubble slowly, seeing family and close friends first.
- Socialise in smaller groups first. People with dementia might find socialising in a smaller group easier, especially when out of practice. It might also be more comfortable socialising in a place that is not noisy or crowded. It takes more effort to concentrate on the conversation in noisy settings.
You might want to go back to some of the routines you had before lockdown (e.g. family dinner on Fridays, golf on Saturdays, church on Sundays).
You might also find new routines that suit you better (e.g. golf on Wednesdays so that outings are spread out a bit)
This may also be an opportunity to start a new physical activity or social activity (e.g. join a local walking club, or council senior’s group, or dementia friendly café). For more ideas, see 4.9 Join a group to be more socially active.
People with dementia might find it harder to do things after the break imposed by lockdowns. If you find your physical strength has deteriorated, consider seeing a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist who can help with exercises to build muscle strength and mobility.
If you find it’s harder to manage getting out and about (e.g. with public transport), an occupational therapist can help people with dementia with strategies so they can continue to do things they enjoy.
Now might be the time to tend to other health issues that you’ve put off seeing the doctor about during lockdown.
Keep helpful changes
If changes you made in lockdown are helpful, healthy or enjoyable, then keep them going.
For example, if you arranged for home-delivery groceries and you like this arrangement, keep it going (particularly if it frees you up for more meaningful social interactions with family and friends).
If you exercised more during lockdown, this is also a great routine to continue, particularly given the benefits of physical activity for people living with dementia.