Forgotten victims of coronavirus and their families are begging for help

There is a twisted irony that during a rampaging virus that killed hundreds inside our care homes, I find myself outside a care home saying goodbye to my mother.

I am not allowed inside. I don’t cry. Instead, I do the buttons on her coat and fix her scarf. She grabs my hand and pulls it to her cheek. We lock eyes and smile.

I know she is scared. I am too. Not of this horrific virus. I know I should be. No, I am more scared of her being alone and frightened. Without me. Without her family. And without knowing when we will see her again.

My funny, often infuriating and fiercely independent mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just three years ago, can no longer live independently and needs 24-hour care.

The lockdown that accelerated her illness has now taken the last bit of fight from her already fragile mental state.

And yet the paradox is there is only space in a home that cares specifically for her dementia needs because Covid had prevented new admissions until last week.

Six months of confusing isolation, unable to leave her flat, do her own shopping, go to lunch clubs and see familiar faces and relax at an art class have taken as much from my mum as the Alzheimer’s. She just missed people.

In the beginning, we survived on humour. Like a naughty child, she’d smile if we panicked when she tried to talk to somebody and reached out to touch them.

Dementia and social distancing don’t mix.

She’d ask every day where the party was, convinced she could get us to admit we were keeping her at home while the world was having a bash every night of the week.

And she would pull on her face mask, covering her nose and eyes and then laugh as we tried to fix it.

She took great delight in asking if we liked her new clothes, taken out from someone else’s laundry in her sheltered housing complex.

But her speech, already diminished by dementia, quickly became a daily guessing game. Fewer people to talk to and no friends to visit took their toll. And without a routine, she quickly lost track of time, of night and day.

She began wandering, knocking on doors and became more distressed, agitated and fearful. She made a bid for freedom, got a neighbour to get her a taxi but then found herself unable to tell the driver where she wanted to go.

The middle-of-the-night phone calls were frequent and the daily jokes long over.

So there we were, outside her new home – a care home which is Covid-free (like her) but where she will still have to isolate for two weeks before getting used to a new world. And alone, as we cannot visit.

As Glasgow faces tougher lockdown restrictions, a look through a window in the coming weeks is as much as we dare hope for. Many of the thousands who died in care homes in the past few months didn’t get the chance to see their families. For thousands of others with loved ones still in care, that has been the brutal normal.

They are the forgotten victims of this pandemic.

The care home residents along with the disabled, the isolated and the elderly. Those who have lost visits, vital day centres, respite care, social clubs and are now more scared and alone than ever. They and their families are begging for help.

After the scandal of care home deaths across the UK, the Scottish Government has a short window to get this right. If it says lessons should be learned from those deaths, then don’t make another mistake with the living.

Lockdown or not, this country needs to see a government that cares about the mental health of the most vulnerable and their families.

Get PPE for all visitors, make care workers get tested every few days. Test those wanting to visit. Throw everything at this, hi-tech and otherwise.

Allow people to see their loved ones again. We will do anything.

The same goes for vital respite centres for the disabled and their families. Make them safe. Open them up. Listen to the reality for
carers and families who are barely able to cope.

I feel guilt. Guilty for being a working mother who is unable to look after her own mother any more. Guilt for putting her in a care home where we cannot see her.

And guilt that our country is continuing to let our most vulnerable down.

Coronavirus in Scotland

I hope my mum, if in a moment of clarity knows where she is, forgives me. I hope I can forgive myself.

I hope for the first time that her dementia means she will forget the next painful few weeks.

But I don’t think I’ll be able to bear it if she forgets me, my sister or my auntie.

I hope that when I do see her, I get to hug her, hold her hand and put it to my cheek.

But I will never be able to forgive or forget any government that offers little help or hope to the most vulnerable and their families.

You failed us on the care homes deaths. Failing on this will be unforgivable.

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