Since the end of March 2020, and the first national lockdown due to COVID-19, the mental and physical health of many of the 411,000 care homes residents has deteriorated.
Many people living in care still have not been able to see their loved ones at all since then.
For others, the restrictions mean that they have been unable to have any meaningful contact with their families such as holding hands or hugging, instead resorting to viewing each other behind plastic screens or through closed windows.
Campaigners have warned of deaths caused by isolation and loneliness and a lack of love, and this is truly heart-breaking.
Kate Lee of the Alzheimer’s Society has said:
“By stopping care home visits you remove the one thing many live for, the love of their family and friends. People die of loneliness, of lack of love, of losing the things that matter most to them”.
There have been calls for all residents to be able to have a key visitor who is able to visit and spend time with their loved one in a more meaningful way.
Just this week the UK government has rolled out a pilot scheme across 20 care homes in Hampshire, Cornwall and Devon, where those relatives will be able to access regular testing, meaning they can visit the home safely.
Visitors will be offered either tests they can do at home, or the new 30-minute rapid tests, which can be administered in person at care homes before a visit.
If this trial is successful it will be rolled out across all care homes in the hope of reuniting residents with their loved ones in time for Christmas.
For the past several months care homes have had to resort to other methods to try and keep families together.
The limitations of technology
Although technology has been able to keep many residents in touch with their families via video calls and messages, it is just not practical for a large proportion of people.
A lot of residents cannot communicate through a screen. They may be deaf, blind or have dementia – they don’t understand what coronavirus is. They are left feeling anxious and confused about why they haven’t seen their families for months.
A spokesperson for the campaign, Rights for Residents, has said:
“Loneliness and isolation will kill people before coronavirus does. We have heard stories of people who just decide to stop eating and drinking, they can’t take it anymore and are choosing to die”.
A complete shift in atmosphere
Usually care homes are busy environments, with lots of family members visiting regularly. They become a part of the family in the care home, they become friendly faces to other residents and care homes feel empty and quiet without them.
In addition to this, there are hardly any visiting health professionals coming to the homes either.
During periods of peak staff shortages activities teams have found themselves being pulled away from their usual duties to provide personal care instead.
The impact on the atmosphere in the care homes is stark.
Furthermore, we also need to remember that able care home residents will often go out too, on trips with their families, with activity teams, or even on their own if they are independent enough to do so. All of this is also postponed at present.
Many of us have had to spend two weeks isolating due to having the virus or having been in close contact with someone else who does.
Anyone coming to the end of their 2-week quarantine will typically say it has been mentally tough, boring, lonely and depressing. Our residents have been living in that situation since March!
Thinking outside the box
For residents in care we need to be thinking outside the box at this time to offer activities and stimulation that can be provided in a national or regional lockdown. The usual games of bingo or watching a film are not going to cut it.
See our next blog on how AutumnCare is helping by being a part of a project that will provide something unique, hopefully bringing a smile to the faces of people living in care during COVID-19.