Blue Monday, which falls on the 17th of January, is often referred to as the most depressing day of the year. It follows the long build-up to Christmas and the drama of New Year’s Eve, when dark, cold and rainy days set in, and there’s not much to look forward to.
Imagine then what it must be like for older residents. Many have limited mobility, which often means they struggle to see family and friends. Given the arrival of the highly contagious Omicron mutation, which is likely to become the dominant strain in the next few weeks, precious opportunities to meet with loved ones may be further curtailed.
With many residential homes already closing their doors to visitors, and some individuals cared for at home thus limiting their guests, frontline care staff must somehow fill the gap to ensure the wellbeing of people using their services. So, what are some best practices they can follow when tending to service users’ needs in this depressing month?
The most important thing to remember is that all social care should be person-centred and in line with people’s assessed needs. When looking at contingency planning, carers should treat each person as an individual without making assumptions of individual wants or needs.
That involves risk assessing whether the person is lonely or prone to loneliness, or if they are comfortable with solitude. Look at their individual profile, their care plan, their individual needs and wishes. Ask them what they want, what they enjoy.
We can’t always know someone is lonely if they ‘mask their feelings with words. Watch out for signs of self-neglect and depression which may arise from feelings of loneliness.
Follow the local Safeguarding Policy and Procedure where you have concerns.
People often live in an artificial lighting environment in the winter, so find ways to increase access to natural daylight. A common problem is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. In these cases, light therapy boxes can help to ease symptoms.
Maintaining a good level of Vitamin D is important too, especially in the winter months when natural sunlight is in short supply and service users aren’t able to go out as much as they would like. Talk to the individual’s practitioner about whether Vitamin D can be offered for an extra boost.
Staying connected to friends and family is vital. If it’s not possible physically then think about how to do that remotely using video communication platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook or Microsoft Teams.
Play around with technology. That could mean providing individuals with more intuitive devices with larger buttons, which are easier for the residents to operate. When setting up virtual meetings, consider a person’s needs and abilities. If they struggle to see or hear loved ones on a tablet screen, for example, connect the tablet to a widescreen television which provides better viewing and sound. Always bear in mind, however, that its essential to match the tech to the person’s needs and abilities.
When it comes to linking up with others, arrange joint video calls in the care setting, especially if social distancing regulations are in place. Look at activities people can do together, such as knitting, games or quizzes. Or it could be using a befriending service or just having a ‘cuppa’ in a local Age UK group café, an initiative that is a key part of their work to relieve loneliness.
At the heart of every group, it is important that people are able to talk about how they feel and care staff can then provide tips on how they can maintain their wellbeing. These gatherings will need a facilitator to safeguard privacy, and to ensure conversations stay positive.
Focus on gratitude, for things that have given people joy over Christmas. Encourage them to make calls to thank friends and family members for gifts or visits. This helps maintain communication and connection.
During bad weather, people spend more time inside. Think about how to change their environment in a sensory rather than a physical way. For example, activate their sense of smell by adding a scent to the room, something that brightens their mood or reminds them of happy times. Get them involved in the selection.
Look at bringing in puzzles or objects that enliven the sense of touch. Relate them to the person’s past work life. For example, if they were a carpenter bring in small wooden objects – or locks and keys, an old type writer for a former secretary. It’s about keeping the mind alive, creating interaction and unlocking memories.
Bring the garden inside. There are lots of plants that can be cultivated this time of year. Create a terrarium so people can feel the earth and help them plan what to grow. Use hardy plants and perfumed herbs like lavender and rosemary.
There’s a great deal of excitement around all the preparations for Christmas, so look at ways to extend the period. Perhaps keep the tree up a bit longer, so there’s not such a stark contrast when all the decorations come down. Or perhaps use greeting cards for artistic projects such as making gift tags for next year.
When it comes to new year pledges, is there something the person always wanted to try? Are there some regular activities you can arrange? Start planning now so individuals have something to look forward to and don’t experience an emotional dip.
If individuals are inviting people to their home whether in a residential or individuals own house, make sure everyone follows the Infection Prevention Control (IPC) as outlined by Government guidelines. And be mindful about keeping up to date with the latest requirements.
QCS has developed a number of policies and best practice advice around wellbeing that front line carers can access. The QCS Resource Centre includes Care Planning aids and a complete winter planning tool kit with information on:
- Supporting People to Stay Connected
- Recognising Loneliness, Social Isolation, or Withdrawal,
- Screening Checklist for Social Isolation or Withdrawal
There are also policies and procedures about what to do when loneliness leads to safeguarding concerns such as self-neglect and self-harm, as well as aids on how to undertake person-centred risk assessments.
QCS also offer a wealth of topical blogs and articles: