[Event report] (Webinar) HGPI Special Seminar – Considering the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Lives of People with Dementia (May 29, 2020)
Health and Global Policy Institute (HGPI) held a special HGPI Seminar entitled “Considering the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Lives of People with Dementia.”
Currently, each one of us is experiencing unease due to the situation surrounding Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). As the circumstances grow more serious by the day, we are continuing to grope our way towards a response to this unprecedented viral pandemic. In light of the fact that the current situation is expected to continue for some time, we held a discussion to share information on the circumstances faced by people with dementia, their family members, and caregivers due to COVID-19 and to examine the best way to build a dementia-friendly society both during and after the pandemic.
To share the current state of life in Japan and spark new discussions, a video of the meeting with Japanese audio and English subtitles will be shared online at HGPI’s website. We are currently preparing that video for release, so please keep an eye on our website.
■Speaker reports on the current situation
Tomofumi Tanno (Executive Committee Representative, Orange Door)
To maintain personal connections, I have continued working. The people with dementia I work with are also using online video chat tools so we can continue seeing each other’s faces and holding exchanges. While the only people I have met in person have been coworkers and family, I believe it is important to do our best to proactively utilize tools like digital devices to maintain our connections with people far away. The fact that we are living with various restrictions placed on our day-to-day lives means it is that much more important for us to treasure the right to self-determination for those living with dementia.
Morio Suzuki (Representative Director, Alzheimer’s Association Japan (AAJ))
Based on recent stories and issues we hear from all over Japan, it is growing more difficult for family members to see relatives with dementia who live in care facilities or are receiving long-distance care. Due to the fact that preventive measures against COVID-19 have been prioritized, some long-term care services have been suspended or have stopped accepting new registrations. This has increased the burdens placed on family members. Until now, our organization has devoted great effort to arranging meeting spaces for people with dementia or their family members to have the chance to meet one another face-to-face to share their concerns and feelings. However, it has grown difficult for us to hold those meetings, which has decreased opportunities for those people to meet. This makes me feel that such meetings are that much more important. Long-term care is exactly the sort of close contact we have been told to avoid, and creating crowded places is a key requirement for our activities. To endure through this situation, we would like to continue using phone consultations like we have provided in the past or to proactively incorporate new digital devices.
Yoshimasa Takase (President, Takase Clinic)
I am involved with many people with dementia, mainly through in-home care. My duties include making regular visits once or twice per month and providing emergency response. Among the people with dementia I am responsible for helping, some have been directly affected by restrictions placed on day service use or face-to-face meetings within care facilities. Some people are living with a sense of unease due to COVID-19. In the past, I had focused on providing care in person, so there have been changes from my previous care practices. In my role as a healthcare provider, I am working to provide information on infectious disease countermeasures. In the future, I would like to improve methods of providing community care and promote cooperation between healthcare, nursing, and long-term care while effectively combining both online and offline care practices.
Satoshi Kasai (CEO and Executive Officer, Nursing Care & Healthcare Business, SOMPO Holdings, Inc.)
Our company provides housing with attached long-term care services and operates day care services and similar services nationwide. There have been cases of COVID-19 infection within our facilities. Because we provide group living, completely preventing infections is as great a challenge as would be expected. To protect the daily lives of people with dementia or their family members in the current circumstances, we have implemented thorough measures to prevent infection and have adjusted our working environment to help our staff continue working. We are doing our best to engage in careful communication to respond to disrupted routines and physical or psychological changes people with dementia or their families are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the future, we will expand our use of digital devices and continue to improve and increase communication.
Junya Ishimoto (Chairman, the Japan Association of Certified Care Workers)
In long-term care sites, it is impossible to avoid the “Three Cs” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings). At the same time, it is naturally difficult to provide care services remotely. Situations differ for those most affected according to the type of long-term care provided. Care providers in care facilities, day care service providers, and visiting care service providers are each facing different risks and challenges. There have been cases when some of our long-term care providers in their child-rearing years have had to stop working to avoid the risk of spreading infection to their families or to handle the challenges created by regional school closures. As for concrete steps our organization has already taken, we collected stories and opinions from those working at long-term care facilities and formulated a request to the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare on April 24, 2020. Moving forward, we will steel ourselves against the expected second and third waves of COVID-19 to be able to maintain operations at long-term care facilities and to continue providing services.
Shinpei Saruwatari (Promoter for Consultation Support Integration, Omuta City Hall; Director, Shirakawa Hospital Comprehensive Community Health Office; Steering Committee Member, Designing for Dementia Hub)
In my role as a hospital social worker, I am making efforts to advance dementia policy measures in Omuta City. The suspension of local activities has had significant effects on people with dementia. But, compared to long-term care service users, the effects have been even greater on people with dementia who cannot use long-term care services covered by Long-term Care Insurance and rely on their communities for support in everyday life. To help resolve this situation, we have taken our activities online. Even those who were originally opposed to online tools learned how to use them and are now providing effective support. To spread the use of online communication tools in the future, I believe we must devote particular efforts to get digital devices treated as welfare tools within Long-term Care Insurance services.
Hayato Suzuki (Member, House of Representatives)
The Government is taking measures to review or ease past requirements for receiving services to help people with dementia and their families continue living the daily lives to which they are most accustomed. In the Diet, discussions are advancing on adding supplementary budgets to improve the equipment at care facilities used for holding online meetings and providing other online services. I would like for us to advance the creation of guidelines for restarting community gatherings and similar meetings. I would also like for us to keep a close eye on the situation surrounding COVID-19 while taking steps towards the enactment of the Basic Law for Dementia, which has been discussed continuously since last year.
In the second half of the seminar, the speakers held an opinion exchange session based on following themes.
- Methods for maintaining existing connections within communities
- How the societal situation for people with dementia has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it will change after it ends
Many people reported that they are not thinking of returning to former methods of providing care services and instead want to concentrate on exploring new methods. Effectively using digital devices to create opportunities for online exchanges was identified as an urgent issue. Anticipations are high for online care to increase opportunities for intergenerational exchanges in which younger family members teach the person with dementia or other family members how to use digital devices. There were also statements made about new merits created by digital devices, such as their ability to create opportunities to see faraway relatives. The combined use of face-to-face meetings and online meetings is also expected to improve the quality of communities.
By focusing on the activities we have been able to engage in without only looking back on the activities that the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented, we can perceive aspects of the current situation in a positive light. This seminar provided multi-stakeholders an opportunity to share their positive outlooks and express their desires to undertake new challenges.