As thoughts of COVID-19 became a running thread in our day-to-day living, it seems to shine a light on the social misconceptions regarding the inherent value, worth and capacity of older people. Walking a thin line between protecting older people and valuing their unique experiences while maintaining their right to autonomy, has never been more necessary than in this period of worldwide watchfulness.

It would seem the world is turning their eyes away from the older generation of people at a time when their eyes should be even more keen and eager to observe them. The over 65 year cohort already is the fastest growing population segment globally. We cannot afford to sit and wait for the imbalances in the way we treat older people to catch up to us.

In this time, where we find ourselves with limited freedoms and a desire to be heard, it provides us with an opportunity to reflect and listen to older people, many of whom have experienced such restrictions long before COVID-19 came around. Regrettably, many during this time have found that lockdown is no way to live. Why does it seem, then, that we have reached a point where this is the life that we prescribe to so many people living with dementia?

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story for most older people in this time. With regulations and safety precautions abounding, many older people are becoming more starved of genuine human interaction, care and love. If these needs are not met, the ‘quality of life’ that older people and especially those with dementia deserve is frankly non-existent.

Fear of the virus is the main culprit for the general attitude towards older people in this time, but it’s not the first-time fear has acted to the detriment of older people. It seems that fear of the unknown – that which cannot be described and not felt – has conditioned society to reject the notion that complexities of emotion and a desire to be seen, heard and touched are the lifeblood of those living with dementia.

This is where the turnaround must take place. At GERATEC, we believe that it’s time we start seeing, feeling, and listening to the people who have been misunderstood for so long. There is ample evidence to suggest that people living with dementia are fully aware of their surroundings. They pick up on the most subtle disturbances in the environment that has a measured affect on them. When they react to these environmental stressors, it can lead to loss of appetite, suppressed emotions, withdrawal, increased irritability, mood swings and many more, often ascribed to “the disease”.

The presiding consideration should always be to preserve the dignity of people living with dementia, by not automatically assigning these reactions to the fact of dementia. Instead, these reactions are a valid response to the stimuli of their surroundings that they find difficult to engage with.

It is time we stand in that difficulty, put on new shoes and walk in them. As much as we may pretend that all is well, people living with dementia are able to pick up on the insincerity that fuels the pretence. The only way to acknowledge and stand in this difficult space is to become present: to listen, to acknowledge, and to speak sincerely – failing which we are guilty of taking away their agency and citizenship.

Now is the time to take a hard look at the way we treat older people living with dementia. While fear takes its hold in most of the world, perhaps it’s time we face ours. Perhaps it’s time to face the fear of the unknown and acknowledge the dignity of the older people who live it daily. In being present, we do away with the pretence and create avenues to live connected to those living with dementia. We at GERATEC take relationship-centred support seriously, maintaining the dignity of those living with dementia, and we believe you can too.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)