Home care providers are putting preparations in place to prevent loneliness, stress and anxiety among older people as they begin to adopt social distancing and enter self-isolation.
The latest government advice for all Britons is to avoid “non-essential travel” and mass gatherings, while people over the age of 70 have been told they may have to self-isolate for up to four months as a preventative measure against the coronavirus.
But older people, particularly those receiving care at home, are often already some of the most isolated individuals in our communities. According to Age UK, there are 1.4m chronically lonely older people in England, and many more across the rest of the UK.
Take away their visits from friends and family, and trips out to the supermarket and local groups, then the situation is likely to worsen.
Deborah Alsina, CEO of Independent Age, said during a debate on the Victoria Derbyshire show yesterday: “There are also 6.5 million over-70s in the UK at the moment – that’s a lot of people who are potentially going to be on their own for prolongued periods of time, and that will inevitably cause a lot of both physical and mental health problems that the health service needs to be able to pick up on.”
In response to these new challenges, home care providers across the country are doing everything they can to protect the health and wellbeing of their clients.
Good Oaks Home Care’s network of offices in Dorset, Hampshire, Reading and Mid Sussex wrote to their clients last week, highlighting the extra things they can do for them remotely, and has called on the public to partner up with the provider in maintaining the morale of older people.
“This includes organising shopping deliveries free of charge, free weekly catch-up phone calls with staff, and free provision of soap and hand gels to clients whose supplies are running short,” said Good Oaks director Ben Ashton.
“At Good Oaks, we are evaluating creating a community ‘Buddy’ scheme to enable people who want to help vulnerable members of their community to so. We have seen a real appetite for this on social media and are looking for ways that people who want to help can do so in a way that also keeps vulnerable adults safe.”
National home care provider Bluebird Care plans to utilise digital communication tools – where customers are happy and able to do so – to help minimise the feelings of loneliness that are likely to sink in during periods of self-isolation.
Neil Murray, head of compliance and quality at Bluebird Care, said: “It will become important for us as a provider of care and support at home services to encourage customers to stay in contact not just with our care teams, but also their wider support network.
“Friends, family members and community groups will all be looking at ways in which they can maintain contact without the need to physically ‘be’ present and Bluebird Care is keen to support that wherever we can.”
Bluebird Care has also carefully identified those that require critical care and support and those that could have an element of their care temporarily replaced with a phone call, should the time come for the over-70s population to self-isolate.
“We’re actively supporting the ability to replace those types of calls – when we reach that point – with other digital options as some of our customers regularly utilise FaceTime and Messenger,” said Murray.
Emerging franchisor Radfield Home Care acknowledged that isolation will be a “very serious concern” for older people, and the potential separation from loved ones will “undoubtedly” cause anxiety.
“Where possible, families and friends should take the opportunity to ensure that older people are prepared for staying at home, able to use technology to maintain regular contact, able to exercise and keep themselves busy,” advised franchisor Dr Hannah MacKechnie.
“This will all help them to manage the negative effects of self-isolation. We will be working with our clients and their families as much as possible to maintain their wellbeing.”
At Home Instead Senior Care, the UK head office is looking flex its normal working practices to ensure that clients are offered open lines of communication with care workers and their local franchise office, whether that be via telephone or Facetime.
“We know that offering our clients a form of companionship even in a different guise to the norm, could be key to maintaining morale and avoiding loneliness during a self-isolation or social distancing initiative,” said CEO Martin Jones.
“During this time, we as a business will issue further advice around maintaining good wellbeing, including guidance on nutrition, exercises that could be carried out in the home and hobbies; all of which will contribute to maintaining a good sense of wellbeing.”
“It is also important if you have elderly relatives, friends or neighbours that are adhering to the self-isolation and social distancing initiative, that we offer them support whether that be via a phone-call to check in on them, a friendly chat, or dropping off medication or grocery shopping that they may need to ensure we look after this vulnerable and important community in our society.”
David Glover, the managing director of Caremark, said the provider will continue to provide care to clients required to self-isolate, and will make sure its care and support workers are regularly trained and properly equipped to do so.
“So, regular client contact with care and support workers will help alleviate loneliness and depression. In addition, we are also looking at setting up telephone calls with clients, which will help,” he explained.
Meanwhile, charities such as Mind and Age UK are rallying to help the significant number of older people who have chosen to self-isolate or adopt social distancing.
“We will work closely with The Silver Line charity, of which I am a chairman, and Age UK who have joined forces and offer different initiatives to combat loneliness in older people; from a befriending service to a helpline,” added Jones.