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12th June 2020

Helping the Families of Care Home Residents Cope with Separation and Isolation during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Helping the Families of Care Home Residents Cope with Separation and Isolation during the Covid-19 Pandemic

We are all suffering from being separated from our loved ones in one way or another and although isolation is the right response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it only intensifies the loneliness and anxiety experienced by those that it affects. I am desperate to hug my grandchildren and struggling with the limited contact I am allowed with my 90-year-old mum. The brief garden or window visits do little to reassure me or give either of us the physical interaction we need. But for people in care homes, the most vulnerable people in our society, and their relatives, then the struggle is much harder.

Most relatives understand and support the measures put in place to protect their loved ones, but the situation is complex. They worry about their loved ones feeling lonely and depressed without regular visits and not being able to do activities that bring them joy and a sense of purpose. Then there is the added worry of not being able to support loved ones in the way they normally would. Some relatives visit daily to help with care needs and now feel redundant and powerless to help, dreading the phone ringing in case it’s bad news.  Their anxieties can get out of control; small things seem overwhelming and they may well be over-sensitive when they contact you for updates and advice.

If we can support relatives to cope with their anxieties and in turn, they have a better understanding of the difficulties we are all trying to cope with, there is a chance of working together to overcome them. People often feel better if they can help others and have a sense of purpose. Give them opportunities to do something positive. Could they make scrubs, face masks or treats for residents? Perhaps now is a good time to encourage them to build on their loved-one’s life storybook, dig out old photographs and memorabilia, make a playlist of their favourite music or films and TV programmes. Focussing on what they can do will help them to cope and may provide you with useful material to engage their loved ones in times of stress.

Have a plan with families for regular contact, whether that is direct with their loved one or a call or email from you for an update.

Video calls via Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp are becoming increasingly popular but they’re not for everyone. They may be suitable for those with earlier stage dementia, but for those who are more cognitively impaired and struggle with concentration, attention and communication, it could cause added frustration. Dementia UK has a useful resource with tips and advice to get the most out of remote communication (see below).

If video calls are not suitable, then perhaps families could record their video messages; including grandchildren and pets is always a winner. You could also send video messages back. If all else fails then letters, postcards and photographs can still brighten someone’s day.

Throughout this awful time, at least community spirit is high and if we can all work together and support each other we will get through this one day at a time.

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*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Katie Farrar

Occupational Therapist

Katie qualified as an Occupational Therapist in the year 2000. For most of her professional career she has worked in the field of older people’s mental health services within community mental health teams. As part of this she has had extensive involvement with people with dementia and their carers, both in the community and in care home settings. Katie is currently working with the Dementia Pathway Team supporting people with dementia in the care home setting and particularly with advanced care planning for end of life care. She has also recently completed the Mental Health Act Best Interest Assessor Course at Leeds Beckett University. Katie has developed and delivered training to care homes on dementia awareness, managing delirium and managing challenging behaviour. As well, she has supported carers to offer meaningful activities and experiences and provided guidance to care homes on improving environments to become dementia friendly. Read more

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