Simon Baynes is the Welsh Conservative Member of Parliament for Clwyd South in North Wales
As Conservatives it is our role to question the involvement of the state in our life. However, we mustn’t be dogmatic. The state is a necessary and powerful means to keep the country safe. The responsible use of state power has been demonstrated none more so in the Westminster Government’s deft and appropriate response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While history will no doubt judge that some mistakes have been made, I’m confident that the overall conclusion will be that at a time of crisis this Conservative government stepped up quickly and decisively to respond to this once-in-a-century health threat while also providing significant support to all areas of the economy.
Despite this unprecedented response, this cruel virus has tragically cut short the lives of so many of our loved ones and we mourn for them. Tragically, for those people with dementia, who were already facing the challenge of another cruel disease, the virus has been particularly devastating. Of all those who have died of Covid-19, more than a quarter also had dementia, making it the most common underlying condition.
There are various and complex reasons why people with dementia have been so badly hit (I would recommend reading Alzheimer’s Society’s Worst Hit report, if you want to find out more), but I do think we now need to begin considering what we can do to mitigate the impact on those that have survived the pandemic.
The NHS has done a brilliant job at putting together a recovery service for those that have had Covid-19, but it’s also vital that we see a similar rehabilitation strategy put in place for those who are living with dementia. Before I entered Parliament, my wife Maggie and I set up a charity, Concertina – Music for the Elderly – that provides music in care settings, so I know the powerful and vitally important impact such stimulation has on the ability for residents to live well, maintain their skills and manage their mental health.
For people with dementia, if they’re not able to keep their cognitive and communication skills sharp, they can lose them permanently. Similarly, the increased sedentary behaviour many have experienced over these last few months can lead to deconditioning, difficulties with balance and increase the risk of falls. For those with more advanced dementia, without the assistance of speech, language and music therapists, they might struggle with forming words or even swallowing. While this excess deterioration is extremely damaging, if we act swiftly it can be slowed and even reversed.
In that vein, I would urge all national UK governments to work hand-in-glove with clinical commissioning groups and local health boards, local authorities, providers and families, to set up a clear strategy to enable people affected by dementia to recover from the effects of the pandemic, including rehabilitation to counteract effects on cognitive or physical functioning, support for mental and physical health, and speech and language therapy. Here in Wales, there are more than 48,000 people with dementia, with the majority of those having severe dementia.
The retention of vital skills and the recovery of those lost by people with dementia, where it might be possible, should be a priority in the New Year and I hope the Westminster and devolved UK governments will recognise and step up to this challenge.