North West care operator, Belong, launched a specialist dementia helpline run by Admiral Nurses to ensure family members and carers of its customers continue to be supported throughout the Coronavirus outbreak.

Usually delivered through face-to-face home visits or appointments at one of Belong’s seven state-of-the-art care villages, the Admiral Nurses work alongside people with dementia, and their families: giving them specialist support, expert guidance and practical solutions.

The organisation made the decision to switch to a telephone-based service as part of a number of measures to help families to face the current challenges and to ensure the health and wellbeing of its customers during the pandemic.

Headed up by Admiral Nurses, Caroline Clifton and Louise McDonald, the free service continues its mission to improve the quality of life of Belong customers who have been medically diagnosed with dementia, alongside those who care for them. This includes helping them live positively with the condition and develop skills to improve communication and maintain relationships. They also advise Belong colleagues on best practice for dementia care.

Commenting on the new telesupport service, Caroline said, “Our job is to make the lives of those we support easier and that’s exactly what we are aiming to do with this service. Moving to telephone consultations enables family members and carers of our customers to contact us from the safety of their own homes, without sacrificing on the support they receive. Whether it’s offering advice and coping strategies, or simply lending an ear, we will do everything we can to provide assistance during this difficult time.”

To support those in the community without formal care assistance in place, Belong’s Admiral Nurses have also developed a COVID-19 guide to help families and friends of people with dementia recognise and overcome some of the barriers created by isolation, face coverings and social distancing. Tips range from nutrition and activity ideas to ways of maintaining exercise and social interaction whilst restricted to the home, as well as advice on how to explain coronavirus restrictions.

Across Belong’s state-of-the-art care villages, residents were supported to find new ways of connecting with friends and family, including expanding the use of systems traditionally focused on care records to support wider wellbeing activities in more dynamic ways.

Person Centred Software’s Relatives Gateway feature gave relatives Facebook-style updates through a secure, private connection, as well as facilitating video calls and picture messaging.

Residents at Belong villages also became familiar with mainstream messaging, video conferencing and streaming apps to chat face-to-face with loved ones, take part in weekly quizzes and join in virtual birthday parties.

With each of Belong villages’ 24-hour care households equipped with an Amazon Alexa, voice-activated technology kept residents entertained with creating playlists and residents quizzing Alexa on past and current events or points of interest.

Meanwhile, Facebook Live provided a channel for live performances by favourite musical acts that frequently take place at the village. And other online provisions allowed versions of the types of excursions enjoyed before lockdown, including seeing animals being fed at Chester Zoo, and attending theatre productions and museum tours.

Virtual reality exercise equipment also enabled residents to walk and cycle in destinations around the world.