When you walk away from a visit or finish a call and you sense that you have made a real difference to somebody, even if it’s just for that hour or day – that’s the most rewarding part of being a dementia adviser.

Chris Maple is one of 10 dementia advisers in Wiltshire. Here he reflects on supporting families struggling to cope with the effects of social isolation in lockdown and beyond. 

 “I support 185 families in the Trowbridge area and am the first point of contact at or around the time of the diagnosis. At our first meeting I’ll spend a couple of hours getting to know my client and their family, find out what stage of dementia they are at and what support they need, whether it’s financial, physical or emotional, and put together an action plan for them. After that we stay in regular contact and families can always ring me.

“The pandemic has had a big impact on how dementia advisers do their job. It’s made it harder for us to get out to clients and offer a face-to-face service, but we still provide the same level of help and support.

"Many of our families have also found that other health professionals and charities are not visiting them, and even the GPs won’t always visit, so they are therefore very keen to see us and seek help.

“This latest lockdown has been very different from the first one. During the summer I didn’t get many calls from my families as they could at least sit in their gardens and watch the birds, but now they’re struggling with not being able to get out because of the cold weather. Some carers are at their wits’ end and they call asking “How do I communicate with my loved one, how do I entertain them, how do I learn to say no?

Offering reassurance and never judging

 “I suggest our Home Support service to give family carers a bit of a break and a new face and make such a difference. Or if it just the two of them at home I often suggest that they do some reminiscence work with their loved one with old photos or music, or do jigsaw puzzles and play games - get back to some activities the person has enjoyed in the past and not mind if they can no longer do things in the same way.

"Most carers just need to know that they are doing the right thing for their loved one, and hopefully we can provide that reassurance through our theoretical, and often personal experience with dementia.

“In some cases the restrictions, lack of social stimulation and not being able to get out has caused the dementia to move along more rapidly. And some calls I receive can be challenging if the client or carer is in distress. It can be made worse if they’re calling from a mobile and the reception is breaking up or the person I’m speaking to has hearing difficulties. It can be very emotional. Afterwards I have to sit down with a cup of tea or go out into the garden and have a breather.

“Our families know you are not going to solve all their problems, but they seem to take great comfort in the fact that there is an organisation, and a representative of that organisation, who spends a good deal of time listening to them, not judging, and providing them with options. They just need to vent and know they’re doing the right thing and what they’re experiencing is normal.”

Learn more about our dementia advisers