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Dementia and Covid-19 in Kenya


By Elizabeth Mutunga

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit us all very hard and the silent group that has been hit even harder than most are people living with disability and dementia. These two groups thrive on stable routines and these are severely disrupted in this season and many cannot understand why.

· Cessation of movement: The two major cities in Kenya have been locked down for over three months now and this has separated many patients from their visitors. Parents in the village whose children came weekly or fortnightly haven’t had visits in months. In some cases this has led to loneliness and rise of illness as people struggle to have medications and needed supplies delivered as reliably as before.

· Loneliness: many dementia patients are in the elderly higher risk bracket who need to be protected from infection by younger carriers who don’t even know they are carriers. The call to stay away from them has created very deep loneliness and sadness as some believe that their children and grandchildren no longer want anything to do with them.

· Anxiety: the instability of previous routines and the demand to be indoors has created so much stress and anxiety that patients are becoming increasingly combative and unsettled making them sleep less. The need to keep washing hands and wearing masks are demands on life that are causing great anxiety in patients because they don’t understand why the demand.

· Disappearances: some patients just get up and go for a walk and may not come back in time so get caught up in places they don’t away from their homes. Some have just disappeared and are yet to be found in this season. With the reality that there is a limit to the hours you are out, the search time shorter and more stressful.

· Financial strain: some caregivers have lost their jobs or are on reduced pay regimes which means there are shortages of help, medication, and nutritious food.

· Disrupted routines: the lockdown, curfew, cessation of movement and social distancing has adversely affected the realities of all and lead to anger and frustration which leads to combative behavoir. Caregivers have noticed an increase in the number of fights and aggressive episodes simply because people don’t like to told where they can or cannot go. This means that patients are hyper and sleep less making their behaviour increasingly erratic.

· Caregiver overwhelm: the changes in finances, social distancing rules and the inability to travel has meant that some caregivers cannot get to their places of work and the in house care givers cannot have help. This leads to no down time that in the end becomes a sense of very deep overwhelm and leads to fatigue, stress and sleeplessness

· Greater awareness: the good news is that as families are together, those who have in the past rejected diagnoses have time to watch their family member and determine the truth. It has also allowed those who don’t spend time with the patient time to understand the intensity of taking care of the patient and creating a deep awareness why the primary care givers look for a few minutes away

The one thing that has made life easier is all the available online platforms of interaction. We have even take our support group sessions online to ensure that no one misses the help and support they need.

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