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Keeping your chin up!

Loneliness and social isolation are two potential consequences of the Coronavirus outbreak, and the shielding restrictions imposed on the most vulnerable people. But providers are rising to the challenge of keeping residents connected with each other and the outside world. CHM freelance writer Eleanore Robinson explains what they are doing

Just like the general population, people using care services are frightened and unhappy at the sudden huge threats to health posed by the coronavirus and the measures implemented by Government to reduce its spread.

But, as Rachel Griffiths, a Mental Capacity Act and human rights consultant, advises: “Those living with dementia, learning disabilities, neurological illness or acquired brain injury are more likely that the rest of us to be confused, or forget the reasons for the huge restrictions on freedom.”

Griffiths, who is an advisor to Care England, said that residents’ emotional and mental wellbeing can be promoted if staff can repeatedly explain what is happening, that the current pandemic and its restrictions will end (but not just yet), and that most people will live through it. It will also help to reinforce the message that we’re all in it together.

Making isolation more bearable
There is quite a lot care homes can do easily to make isolation more bearable: this includes giving residents remote access to relatives and friends online or by phone, and by providing music, books and videos, and voice assistants as entertainments. Staff and volunteers should be encouraged to discover residents’ specific interests to deliver person-centred creative solutions.

Alyson Scurfield, chief executive of TSA, the national body for technology-enabled care services, says care home teams need to take the challenge of social isolation seriously. She says: “We all know the dangers of social isolation; research shows that it’s equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Technology can have an immediate impact, instantly connecting people, keeping them mentally stimulated and physically fit.”

Among those sharing their examples of isolation-beating activities is Sanders Senior Living’s home Claridge Place in Solihull, which has encouraged residents to write to local school children. At the company’s Graysford Hall home in Stoneygate, Leicester, residents are exchanging letters and pictures with a local nursery.

A spokesperson for Sanders explained: “Intergenerational links are proven to improve the wellbeing of both groups. Residents are excited to begin new friendships with another community group, to learn about one another and then to be able to spend quality time face to face once it’s safe to do so.”

Balhousie residents are also getting their pens and paper out, but to write to people in one of the group’s other care homes in Perthshire.  “Some of our service users have not had a letter through the post in years,” said Carol Stillie, activities coordinator at Balhousie Rumbling Bridge care home. “We had great fun writing the letters and it triggered lots of memories and conversation.”

When choosing tech-based entertainment, Scurfield suggests nominating a member of staff as a “digital champion” to understand residents’ requirements and to help them get started with the tech once it arrives. TSA’s TEC Stories guide can provide staff with inspiration, as required.

TSA also advises that potential technology suppliers should be asked about any relevant GDPR compliance and security. Guidance such as Digital Social Care’s guide ‘An introduction to cyber security’ may help.

Scurfield added: “This COVID-19 outbreak has been awful in so many ways, but I hope one positive is that more care homes embrace technology, long term, to enrich the lives of their residents.


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