Care home residents in England must be allowed to live, not just kept alive, during Covid | Older people

Government guidance tells us that visits to our nursing home should still be taking place remotely, through Zoom or Skype, “wherever possible”, with face-to-face visits reduced to a weekly, distanced meeting with a “single constant visitor” – who has to wear a mask – by appointment. It says nothing at all about residents who used to go out. As everyone else who has been shielding ventures out, our residents and their families still have no idea when it will be possible to start popping to the cafe down the road for a coffee, or for a much-missed trundle along the seafront.

Ignoring the problem, as the Department of Health and Social Care is doing, will not make it go away and merely pushes responsibility on to the managers of care homes.

Wherever it feels safe, we are taking tentative steps to bring back the things that enrich the life of the home and the 23 residents who live in it. In a socially distanced space, without friends and family members joining in, organised activities can feel a little sterile, but they are happening. Singing remains off-limits as a high-risk activity, but film afternoons, games and pamper sessions are back and are making a difference.

For those who are not independently mobile – who need help to get in and out of bed or a chair – going into residential care should offer a real alternative, with carers available round the clock, plenty of company if you want it, and a programme of enrichment activities. In the age of Covid measures in England, it means shutting yourself away from anyone who is important to you. We need to find better ways of protecting the people who live in our care homes without isolating them, or we risk forcing vulnerable people, and their families, to choose between their physical needs and their emotional ones.

Being confined to a wheelchair doesn’t lessen what you feel when you hold the hand of a loved one, share a joke with friends, or watch your grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) play, and if anything these moments matter more to our residents than to us, because of the things they cannot do any more. Tragically, they are all things that the coronavirus has taken away from them.

Our nursing home should do more than meet the basic physical needs of residents, simply to keep them alive. They may have lost physical capabilities (and some of them also have cognitive problems) but like all of us, they can and should have moments of pleasure in their daily lives. Even if you can no longer feed yourself, you can still enjoy the food you like. Residents who cannot dress themselves still like to look their best, and when our staff help them to pick out an outfit for the day, or do their hair and makeup, they are helping to preserve a person’s dignity and self-respect.

A statement on the wall of our staff room reads: “Despite the seriousness of her condition, my mother didn’t just pass her time there, but lived it.” It’s one of a number of comments from our annual residents and friends survey, displayed to remind all of us of the very real difference that doing our job well can make.

There are no easy answers for how we continue to do the job well during a pandemic, although regular testing is vital to give us confidence that our homes and activities are safe. After weeks of delays, we have finally had a delivery of kits, which should enable us to implement the weekly testing for staff and every four weeks for residents announced in July. This needs to be made available to all homes – those who look after adults with disabilities are still waiting for their first tests – and it urgently needs to be expanded to include key family members and friends to allow them to become a full part of the residents’ lives again.

Nobody realistically thinks we can be back to normal by Christmas, and care-home managers, already exhausted by the outbreak and still grappling with the day-to-day challenges of sourcing PPE and testing kits, need help and support with these questions that are not even acknowledged in the national guidance.

We all need to make these questions part of the conversation about how life should be in a time of coronavirus. It is not enough to simply keep our residents alive. We should be finding ways to help them live.

Source: The Guardian

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