If you haven’t time to read all of this blog, but you are keen to help us, zip down to the last paragraph but one, where you will find some links.

We live in strange and troubling times. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting almost every area of human activity and experience, and it inevitably has implications for the work many are doing to live with or overcome dementia.

Sad news

Last week, we received news of the death from coronavirus of Eddie Large. This is especially sad news for many BRACE supporters because Eddie had been a great support to our volunteers in his hometown of Portishead. He also spoke at a BRACE fundraising event a couple of years ago. We knew that he was struggling with a heart condition and, in the end, the virus was an extra burden too much. Thank you, Eddie, and rest in peace.

This sad news brings home the inevitability that many of us will be touched by coronavirus. I’ve been thinking about three ways in which it affects the lives of those with dementia.

Impact on care

The first is care. We hear in the media of concerns that some care homes may be vulnerable because of staff coming and going without adequate protective gear. The point has even been raised in parliament. It has certainly been necessary for many homes to lock down, even before the government made it a general policy. This has unfortunately denied residents visits from family and friends. I imply no criticism by saying this; protecting life is the priority and extraordinary measures are needed. A high percentage of people in care homes have dementia, however, and many will find this unfamiliar separation hard to comprehend.

Spare a thought also for people with dementia or mild cognitive impairment who live in their own homes and are self-isolating. To varying degrees, they may be dependent on relatives or other carers who visit them regularly, a pattern now disrupted. Depending on the nature and stage of their dementia, they may find the new restrictions bewildering and unsettling.

Good advice has been published by the Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia UK and others about ways to support someone with dementia, whether as part of a shared household or remotely. Remote support can never be as good as personal contact, though. In addition, many are without the online options on which much remote care depends.

Impact on research

Dementia research, too, has been hit. At this early stage, it is difficult to assess the full impact, but the immediate consequences are that most university laboratories are closed and clinical research cannot happen because of social distancing. For those researchers who are at a stage where they are analysing data and writing up their findings, there may not be any real disruption for some time. For others, however, work has stalled until they can return to their normal research environment.

We have been contacting the various leading researchers working with BRACE funding, to assess how much harm is being done. It is vital that we don’t allow dementia research to be set back more than can possibly be helped.

The Association of Medical Research Charities, of which BRACE is a member, has just published the results of its survey of how coronavirus is affecting medical research.

Impact on charities

Finally, there are the charities. This isn’t just about BRACE or even dementia charities generally. I am aware of small charities facing a fight to survive, and large charities predicting major losses and furloughing a large proportion of their workforce. The National Trust, for example, has announced that it has furloughed 80% of its 14,000 staff.

BRACE has had to take emergency measures, too. We have six current staff plus a fundraising vacancy in Devon. We have had to furlough three of our six employees until the end of May, while we wait to see what happens. With the support of the government scheme, this protects the charity from financial problems while normal fundraising activity is largely impossible.

We have also had to inform scientists that we cannot accept new applications until November (for decisions in February 2021) because we need to rebuild our research fund.

Like many charities, we depend on face to face contact with the general public, whether by the charity’s own team or by supporters doing their own thing around the country. That could mean anything from a coffee morning to a marathon. We have had to cancel or postpone events and public meetings, wiping out our fundraising diary from now to the end of June. Events organised by others, in which BRACE supporters were to take part, including the London Marathon and a half day of rural hikes, have been postponed. Disappointing for BRACE, but also for the supporters.

A pledge from BRACE

This is therefore a challenging time for us, as for almost every charity, but I can assure you of three things.

First, all the research grants we have already awarded are safe. We only award grants when the funds are in the bank, and we then ring-fence that money. They don’t depend on new fundraising.

Second, we are still working to raise funds online. Anything you can do, whether by donating, supporting us in other ways or simply sharing our posts on Twitter or Facebook, could really help.

Third, we haven’t gone away and normal service will be resumed! The steps we have taken to protect the charity should enable us to weather the storm. We will then restart fundraising with renewed vigour, to build up a fighting fund for new research. We’re going to need your support to do this because, as our slogan says, together we will defeat dementia.