For the last four months I’ve written about different aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. For July, I want to think about life post-lockdown and pose these questions: What do we REALLY want ‘normal’ life to look like now? Is a carbon-copy return to the way things used to be really the best way forward?
The positives and negatives of lockdown life
As lockdown began, initially we all just wanted things to go back to ‘normal’ – we knew that life, we understood that life, however flawed it might have been, and inevitably there was a period of adjustment for all of us that for some people has been immensely difficult, if not impossible. But as the lockdown weeks went by and many of us adopted new ways of working and living, so there have been undeniable benefits – to the environment, to many people’s work/life balance, to the fitness of people who’ve found more time to exercise, and to the culinary skills that I assume are being honed given how hard it’s been for me as a seasoned baker to buy my usual ingredients.
The downsides to lockdown have been the impact on many people’s mental health, on relationships that have been put under huge strain, on jobs that have been lost, through the financial hardship that many people have experienced, and the challenges of everything from caring for older relatives to home schooling children.
Is the ‘old’ normal really worth returning to?
I would suggest, however, that rather than trying to wind the clock back and go back to the ‘old’ normal, or to continue with the ‘new’ normal as it became during lockdown, is the wrong approach. It’s easy to forget with the restrictions we’ve all been subjected to that the way things used to be weren’t exactly a utopia for many different people in many different circumstances, and most definitely for huge numbers of people who are living with dementia and their families.
Lockdown has undoubtedly hit people with dementia and their families particularly hard, with coronavirus devastatingly claiming the lives of so many people with dementia. The struggles experienced during the lockdown period have partly been due to the virus control restrictions augmenting the issues of isolation, loneliness and an extreme lack of support, but they are also reflective of the largely inadequate post-diagnosis experience that’s been the feature of so many people’s lives for years, dating back to when my dad was alive.
I for one do not vote to go back to that. Nor would I vote for everyone to simply be herded back to offices without any thought of the ways in which flexible working (which for many office-based employees is possible) can benefit family life whether you are supporting the youngest or oldest generations. Family carers have craved these working mechanisms for years, and finally some people now have them.
What a ‘better’ normal could look like
I would vote for expansion of the telecommunications networks so that more people can benefit from online services, an improvement in those services to make them all-inclusive, and more ways for people to obtain affordable equipment to make that connectivity a reality. Alongside this increased online information sharing needs to be the post-diagnostic support that people with dementia have never universally had, including:
- Help for people to see a life after diagnosis (peer support networks for the person with dementia and – separately – their family).
- Explanations of how to make the home environment assistive for a person with dementia.
- Support and encouragement of non-drug therapies.
- Training for families to understand how to help a loved one with communication difficulties or changes in their behaviour.
If some of this cannot be delivered face-to-face, deliver it remotely – the technology exists IF we set up the mechanisms to help people access it. Think of it this way: an Admiral Nurse who you see and hear online is unlikely to say anything differently to an Admiral Nurse who you see in person, and of course so many people have never had that personal access anyway (we never did).
I would also vote for continuing with protected shopping times and less crammed public transport to support people who find being in huge crowds confusing and intimidating. Our fast-paced, ‘old’ normal often created just as much isolation as coronavirus has for individuals who didn’t feel able to go out and do what they wanted to do because of the hordes of other people trying to do exactly the same.
Most of all though, I would vote for a far more sustainable social care system. This pandemic has shown how vulnerable so many of our fellow citizens are and how our government, particularly at the start of this pandemic, woefully and wilfully neglected many of those individuals and their families, whether that was through family carers having to provide the care usually delivered by home care workers (as I documented in my June D4Dementia blog via Suzy Webster), or though basically telling care homes to risk residents living or dying for the want of proper testing capacity and adequate PPE.
A vision for the future
Of course, a ‘better’ normal still has to have some important restrictions in place to protect all of us, and particularly vulnerable people, from coronavirus for as long as that is needed, but it could also be a normal that gives us the realistic prospect of creating fundamental change in the UK. Change that helps us to be a fitter, healthier, happier nation, that gets us off this hamster wheel of crazy commuting and a ridiculously out-of-kilter work/life balance, and that is far more supportive of people with dementia and all other disabilities, vulnerabilities and frailties.
As families are meeting up again, and those with relatives in care homes are able to visit them again (some of my clients have been trialing methods of enabling this safely for most of July), the joy of human connection is back on the menu again. But so too needs to be an understanding that what we had as a country before we’d even heard of coronavirus wasn’t necessarily the panacea we are led to believe. Most importantly of all, we need our politicians to grasp this.
Until next time…
WANT TO READ MORE OF MY CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE?
- My March 2020 blog answered two key questions: How do we hand-wash more and how do we self-isolate?
- My April 2020 blog addressed how families and their loved ones in care homes can cope with being isolated from each other.
- My May 2020 blog gave tips on supporting a person with dementia during the pandemic.
- My June 2020 blog looked at how family carers have been affected by lockdown.