Earlier this year before Coronavirus became a household name all over the world Jemma Price, a Healthcare Assistant here at Hospice of the Valleys recognised the growing demand for our CARIAD dementia service (a joint project with the Alzheimer’s Society) and saw first hand the impact that technology could have on people living with a diagnosis of dementia as she often uses technology for reminiscence activities both in patient’s homes and at our weekly day centre.

At the time Jemma applied for a grant for technology to help improve the environment of our Day Centre to make it Dementia Friendly and to help us use technology more in all settings to help patients and their families have a better experience living with a dementia diagnosis and then along came Covid-19 and all our day to day activities changed. We were no longer able to host our weekly day centres and home visits became very limited to keep our families and colleagues’ safe and to stop the potential spread of the virus.

As the weeks went by we quickly recognised that patients and their carers living with a dementia diagnosis were going to be most affected by isolation with normal routines disrupted, day centres closed and face to face support not being available. It was at this point the world was starting to more readily use technology to communicate with each other through zoom and skype and so we decided to get on board with zoom to help alleviate the pressure from the families we support.

The first one was a success and we have continued doing them weekly, holding quizzes, bingo and even had afternoon tea together! It has been an excellent way to keep carers and patients connected and for us all to stay positive.

However in the economically deprived area we live in technology is not readily available in every home and we were seeing families who had no way of joining in the zoom support group. Then one day long after we’d forgotten about it an email arrived to tell us that our appeal for support for technology was successful and we are now able to offer a life line to those families without access to technology in their homes.

“We are proud to have won a Sun 50 grant, celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Visit thesun.co.uk/50 to see more on the campaign and learn a little more about some of the winners.”

Although the original appeal was for the use of technology to support patients in our day centre and their own homes we will now be able to use the grant to purchase the original technology to loan to families during this time to keep in touch and join in with the support groups.

Jemma said “What I love about my role in supporting people living with dementia is finding what people need to help them still feel part of the wider world. I had been working with a patient whose verbal communication skills and a clear understanding of what he was trying to express became very difficult following the diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia. However with the aid of a tablet and supporting his wife we were able to offer support and find favourite songs from younger days and through the sharing of the tablet he sang along to every word. Afterwards he was far less agitated than usual and on another occasion using the tablet I showed him rugby highlights and commentary provided a calm period, easing distress and agitation and giving a much-needed break to his wife who is a full-time carer. Being able to ‘join in’ is a key part of being human and has a real calming effect in patients own homes where I work.”

We will also be purchasing interactive cats and VR headsets for loan into patient homes to support them during this challenging time. Having access to the tools that help us engage with people living with dementia will mean we can train other people and our service can better meet the growing demand for our service locally.