Dr Bute remembers the day the internet delivery man came in and put everything on the kitchen counter-top, leaving some items sprawled over a cooker hob. Jennifer’s normal routine was to put the shopping away immediately, but this time she didn’t. She moved just enough aside from the hob to put on a saucepan, but switched on the wrong hob. When she smelt the burning and the scorching, she thought it was just another olfactory hallucination, and it was only when the bananas exploded that she realised what was happening. Fortunately, Jennifer lives in a dementia inclusive village and when the fire alarm went off people turned up at a door very quickly. (The story is in Dementia from the Inside: A Doctor’s Personal Journey of Hope.)
When you have dementia and you live alone you need routines that you stick to, religiously. Jennifer leaves notes in strategic places, puts dates in her calendar and only has shampoo and shower gel near the shower. She uses Alexa to compile her shopping list, keeps in touch with family and friends by email and Skype and Zoom, and continues to cook, carefully keeping the rules.
Part of Jennifer’s usual routine is visiting other people in the village, something that she can’t do at present. Isolated from their family and friends, many will be feeling lonely. (In England there are an estimated 120,000 people living with dementia at home alone.) Feelings of loneliness are known to have damaging physical effects. They still need to be acknowledged as people of worth, says Jennifer; ‘they need someone to listen to them and it doesn’t matter how – whether it’s by Skype or phone even on the other side of a window.‘ Also, sending cards and flowers reassures them that they are not forgotten. A helpful booklet has been produced by Manchester University and others, called ‘How to Stay Well During the Coronavirus Outbreak – Five Key Messages for People Living with Dementia. Click here to download the booklet.