By Aasma Day
Elderly people in care homes may think they have been abandoned as bosses restrict visitors amid the coronavirus outbreak, families fear.
Many have taken the decision to stop being coming and going to protect their residents – many of whom have complex health conditions, meaning Covid-19 is more dangerous for them.
While family members agree it is a sensible measure, they feel torn at the prospect of not being able to visit their loved ones and some fear they will think they have been abandoned.
Chris Mabey and his wife visit an elderly friend once a week with their Lakeland Terrier Archie.
The woman, 92, has no living relatives and instead sees the couple as her family.
He told HuffPost UK: “We call her ‘great aunt’, but she is actually a very close friend who we have known for more than 20 years. We are her family.
“We are concerned at what the coronavirus will bring and at 92 with failing health, she is at the extreme end of vulnerability to the virus.
“We try to visit her once a week with our dog Archie to brighten her day and he is a focal point of the visit. Not only does he bring a smile to her face, he cheers up other residents in the home who are passing.”
Today I visited my Great Aunt at her Care Home, I made her chuckle ? pic.twitter.com/AIIkRHh1Ez
— ArchieLakeland (@ArchieLakeland) March 11, 2020
Mabey says although they have not been told to avoid the care home, he feels it is “inevitable”.
He said: “She has diminished cognitive awareness so isn’t aware of the situation and wouldn’t understand it.
“The care home will inform us when it is at lockdown and we think it will be the right thing to do as and when necessary to protect people – particularly elderly people who are more vulnerable.
“But sadly, this will mean she won’t have that interaction with Archie and won’t be able to have visitors like everyone else in the same position.”
They also fear for the safety of the staff.
Some people are worried their loved ones won’t understand if they suddenly stop visiting – particularly if they have conditions such as dementia.
Others say they can’t keep in touch with them through alternative means of communication such as the telephone because of hearing problems.
Care homes are encouraging the use of technology to keep in touch, but some say this will be beyond the capabilities of their elderly relatives.
— L y n n Allan?? (@YorklassLynn) March 12, 2020
Some people fear the escalation of the virus might even result in them never seeing their loved ones again.
“Dad’s care home no longer accepting visitors. And so it begins,” wrote one Twitter user. “I know it’s irrational but there’s a chance I could never see him again.”
Another said: “My elderly mum very sick in a care home. If that locks down she will die alone. Testing should be available to show you’re clear.”
Barchester Care Homes, which runs more than 200 care homes across the UK and looks after over 11,000 residents, sent a letter to relatives telling them to stop regular visits until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Oakminster Healthcare, which runs five care homes in Glasgow, has also announced that, as a precautionary measure to protect its residents and staff, it is restricting access to all its care homes.
Please read this important information regarding the coronavirus and our care homes. pic.twitter.com/FMhndL8atX
— OakminsterHealthcare (@OakminsterHC) March 13, 2020
Donald Macaskill, chief executive at Scottish Care, is urging care homes in Scotland to close to all but essential visits.
@scottishcare is asking all #care homes in #Scotland to close to all but essential visits. This will be exceptionally hard for families, residents and staff but the protection of very vulnerable residents is essential. #coronavirushttps://t.co/BJ61FX6FL2
— Donald Macaskill (@DrDMacaskill) March 13, 2020
Many other care homes across the country have taken measures to ban or restrict visitors – including B&M Care, which has 26 homes across the country and says it is “cocooning” residents by placing them in preventative isolation for two weeks.
Bosses at the Glade Residential Care Home in Southport, Merseyside, have made the decision to restrict visitors to appointment-only as a precaution to protect its elderly and vulnerable residents.
The home, which has 23 residents, has also cancelled its weekly minibus trip and halted any external visitors who provide activities at the home including quizzes, bingo, bowling and arts and crafts.
Manager Lynsey Mylrey told HuffPost UK: “Everything happening with coronavirus is awful and although no one we know has had it, we are being cautious to protect people.
“We have had to tell families that they need to make appointments if they want to come into the home and should only come if it is necessary.
“We have also stopped our weekly minibus outing and cancelled any entertainers that come into the home.
“However, although we have stopped people coming in, we have put our own staff in place to do these activities with the residents. But it is such a shame as they look forward to people coming in.
“It was a very difficult decision to make, but at the end of the day the elderly are more prone to getting coronavirus and we need to protect them.”
Mylrey said relatives had been very understanding and staff are encouraging different measures to make sure they can keep in touch with their loved ones.
“We have put Facetime and Skype in place and have also asked relatives to write old fashioned letters to their loved ones to keep communicating with them.
“We have also increased our staffing so we can deal with the emotional needs of residents and have more one-to-one time with them so they don’t feel lonely.”
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, told HuffPost UK care providers are having to make difficult decisions based on protecting not only their residents but also their staff.
We are doing everything possible to mitigate the risk, but we can’t eliminate it.Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association
She said: “All the messages we are getting now is that coronavirus is dangerous for the vulnerable people in our homes who are in the very high risk category.”
But, she added: “People in care homes can get very anxious when relatives don’t visit, so we have got providers looking at things like opening up telephone lines so residents can take calls from their family and setting up systems where more technology is involved in communication.
“Providers have not taken these steps lightly and they will be very aware of the emotional needs of the people they are caring for.”
The government has so far only urged care homes to review visiting policies and ask relatives or friends who are unwell to stay away. Contractor work on sites should also be kept to a minimum.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, urged the government to direct some of its coronavirus budget commitment towards care homes.
To visitors, she advised: “If you are worried about visiting a friend or relative in a care home, call first to check that it is OK to visit; ensure you are symptom free and follow all advice.
“If you can’t visit, ask the care home if they can arrange a Skype call or Facetime, a door drop, phone call or alternatively send a card or letter.”