This interview is part of our rapid review project, The New Normal: Delivering Your Services to Older People in 2021.
The Dementia Support Service at Age UK Salford is commissioned to deliver support for people living with dementia and their carers in Salford. They provide information and advice. one-to-one support, weekly social groups, some for both the carer and the person with dementia, some just for the person with dementia and carer workshops about different topics, such as coping with the day-to-day living, legal and finance. Majority of this work was delivered face-to-face prior to lockdown in March 2020.
We spoke to Mary Ann Byrne, the manager of Dementia Support Services at Age UK Salford in late 2020 to learn more about how they have adjusted their services during the lockdowns and restrictions.
How lockdown changed Age UK Salford’s Dementia Support Service
Leading up to the first lockdown, the Dementia Support Service staff learned to use Zoom, and set up a system of supporting clients while working from home. When lockdown started, staff members kept in touch with clients via regular phone calls.
Through these calls it became clear that people were frightened and isolated, so the service decided to start running groups on Zoom. Staff were understandably nervous, after being used to running groups together with colleagues, they were now starting to run groups alone online. The numbers attending were low at the start, and it was clear there were carers who wanted to use the technology but didn’t know how, so the team spent time teaching people over the phone on how to use the technology.
That was time consuming, but for some it made such a difference when they learned how to use the tech, then they were accessing our Zoom activities, other organisation’s Zoom activities, speaking to family more, they were learning to use Facetime, we were doing a lot of work, showing what you can do on your mobile phone, so yeah, that’s how we started off.
After this, they started to also deliver the carer workshops online. In addition to these, the service delivered different types of activity and information packs to clients. With staff delivering these, this also provided a brief opportunity for face-to-face contact and show isolated clients they have support. Mary Ann describes these:
Just these little things to let people know we’re here, we’re thinking of you, you’ve not been forgotten. The feedback we got was lovely.
Navigating the different challenges was made easier due to staff being flexible and happy to try out different things.
Moving forward: in-person services, volunteers and future of online groups
As an essential service, the Dementia Support Service was able to start in-person groups again since November. While this was something everyone looked forward to, it was not straight-forward, but required new risk assessments and working instructions. And another big change for staff, moving from remote working to working face-to-face again.
The groups have had to be kept small due to safety measures, with more staff than before. Unfortunately, some clients have deteriorated during lockdown and are not able to anymore attend groups, and many clients have decided to wait until things settle down and wait until they have been vaccinated, before coming back to the face-to-face groups.
Alongside the face-to-face groups, the service will continue to deliver activities online in the future too, particularly now that so many carers have been upskilled to be able to access support online.
The service has also been able to re-introduce volunteering on a small scale. This is now not done in the groups as before, but instead assisting facilitating the zoom sessions. This has been very welcome as volunteers were keen to come back and help.
Learning from these experiences
- Support your team so they can continue to support the people who are accessing your service.
- Be flexible and creative; just start with something, don’t try to get it all right before you start because things are changing all the time. Just get going and develop it as you go along.
- Communicate well with your team and the people accessing your service.
You can find more about Age UK Salford’s Dementia Support Service on their website.
You can read more about our project “The New Normal: Delivering your services to older people in 2021” here.