Saturday, October 31, 2020
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Why it’s so cruel to deprive care home residents of their family’s loving touch

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IT is now more than seven months since the care home lockdown began and all indications point to it continuing with no end in sight.

It is cruel and callous and indicative of complete ignorance and understanding of the vital importance of family to care home residents.

Anyone who becomes a permanent resident of a care home is at the end stage of their life, on average less than two years until the end, and to deny them their family at their time of greatest need is diabolical.

Family visits are vital, not just for the emotional needs of the resident, but also for the quality of their care. Family visitors are not only vital as ‘quality controllers’ to ensure an adequate standard of care, but also participate in the care by assisting with eating, grooming, hygiene, entertaining, emotional wellbeing, etc.

Before lockdown, it was plain to see that despite care staff doing their best, they are overworked, underpaid, poorly trained, all in the name of profit, and the only offset was the involvement of daily family visitors in sufficient numbers to keep a check on the standard of care.

And it is not just the residents who are impacted – it is emotionally devastating for the family, particularly, as is so commonly the case, where the spouse/partner or family member was the home carer battling to look after their loved one for many years until having no choice but to succumb to their greatest fear of having to put their loved one into a care home. But at least you could visit every day – until lockdown.

My partner has late stage Alzheimer’s and is completely dependent for all aspects of her care and wellbeing. At her stage, there is very little comfort, dignity and pleasure left in her life, but she really enjoyed each day for me to brush her hair, which I would also do to calm her down when distressed or agitated – a very simple pleasure now denied to us both.

My biggest fear now is that she may reach the very end stage and that I will not be free to be there to hold her hand on her way out.

Although the Government issued (extremely Sir Humphrey-esque) care home visiting guidance in July, it placed all the responsibility on care homes, who are unwilling to take that responsibility and have done no more than to allow very limited garden visits, which are most dissatisfying for both the resident and visitor.

I am aware that some organisations have been lobbying the Government for more practical guidance, but they seem to be using the softly-softly approach, whereas it is now abundantly clear that they need to engage in a very vocal public media campaign.

From my observations, it is only those of us who have cared directly for a loved one with dementia who really understand the devastating impact on the person affected.

So many health and care professionals do not really seem to understand, or only superficially.  When the dementia becomes severe, the only unfailing voice for the sufferer is the voice of the family member, who by their relationship knows the sufferer better than any health or care professional.

That is why the visitor lockdown is so devastating – the impact is the silencing of the only voice that truly understands the sufferer and unceasingly has their best interests at heart. 

Fortunately, my partner’s care home appears to be providing an acceptable standard of care, but with the ban on daily care home visiting, and the lack of normal Care Quality Commission inspections, all the right conditions are in place for some absolutely horrific cases of neglect and abuse behind closed doors.

If, sadly, my fear is correct, and such occurrences are revealed, the relevant authorities will themselves be guilty of wilful neglect, for the likelihood of this is so obvious.

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Stefan Emory
Stefan and his wife Ann were together for 35 years before her care home admission in July last year, in one of those rare relationships of total commitment to and happiness with each other, enjoying the most simple pleasures and laughing at the most trifling things.

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