Increased Risk and Care Procedures
One of the reasons we are still in the middle of a pandemic is because COVID-19 is very easily transmittable. Unfortunately, that also means that individuals with disabilities are most at risk from the same people who assist with their care, according to a study by the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. To reduce the risk of infection as much as possible, caregivers had to quickly adapt to new and increasingly rigorous protocols.
New protocols forced caregivers to rely heavily on personal protection equipment (PPE) and procedures typically used by nurses when providing regular care. Unfortunately, those precautions create their own trials. “Applying these measures can be a challenge when caring for people with [developmental disabilities] and who may not understand the importance of adhering to infection control” (Courtenay, et al.). Those challenges are compounded even further when caregivers (or residents) must self-isolate – further upsetting newly-established routines.
Disruption of Routines and New Stress
People with disabilities often thrive on consistency. That could be jobs, community activities, or even just familiar daily schedules. They ”often follow their own routines and need to be prepared for changes. If not, sudden changes can increase their level of anxiety causing behavioural challenges and potentially mental health conditions” (Courtenay, et al.). The abrupt onset of COVID-19 forced the world to change almost overnight.
Imagine how overwhelming and confusing the early days of the pandemic were for people with [disabilities], many of whom have trouble understanding and expressing language. People with certain disabilities, such as autism, were at greater risk for extreme anxiety and “melt-down” when they experienced abrupt changes to their routine and had to learn unfamiliar procedures to prevent virus spread. Important people in their daily lives – including family members, friends, and paid support professionals – stopped showing up, and people with [disabilities] were prevented from seeing others. Suddenly everyone around them became very anxious and preoccupied with cleanliness and mask-wearing, and many people were not communicating what was happening in “plain language” that [they] could understand. (Meltzer, et al.)
Change isn’t limited to caregiving and schedules, but also in how all people are able to communicate. Masks disguise our facial expressions and we are all learning and using a new vocabulary. “With a stark and rapid change in societal expectations as in a pandemic, people’s ability to adapt … to new patterns of social behaviour expected by all. Quarantine is likely to be difficult for people with [disabilities] to tolerate” (Courtenay, et al.). Use of accessible language and communication can help individuals with disabilities to navigate this pandemic.
As we get closer to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to consider what people with developmental disabilities have experienced thus far and improve that experience for the future. “When the time comes to review the course of the pandemic, it is important that people with ID and their carers are not ignored in order to ensure that they are empowered to face such occurrences in the future” (Courtenay, et al.).
DAHLIA Living is able to give our residents a voice and the resources to ensure their health and happiness through the end of this pandemic. We have PPE available to all staff and residents, strict safety protocols, and socially-distanced activities available to keep our residents engaged. Our caregivers and nurses work incredibly hard to keep life as normal as possible for our residents, and we plan to keep carrying on!
Courtenay, K., and B. Perera. “COVID-19 and People with Intellectual Disability: Impacts of a Pandemic.” Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, vol. 37, no. 3, 2020, pp. 231–236., doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.45.
Meltzer, Donna, and Erin Prangley. Edited by Chris Stacey, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, 2021, Pushing Policy Levers: Examining The Critical Role of State Developmental Disabilities Councils During the COVID-19 Pandemic, secureservercdn.net/184.108.40.206/718.d58.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Pushing_Policy_Levers_digital_FINAL_02211.pdf. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.