Care home visits in lockdown are essential for mental health, say families

Jill Thornton and her mother-in-law Joan
Jill Thornton and her mother-in-law Joan
17:04pm, Tue 03 Nov 2020
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Families of elderly care home residents have said visits must continue during the second lockdown in England because it is “essential” for their mental health.

The comments come as more than 60 organisations and experts called on the Government to enable visits to care homes to continue.

Jill Thornton and her family have been unable to visit her mother-in-law Joan, 85, for six weeks due to Tier 3 regulations in Sheffield.

Joan lost her son and Ms Thornton’s husband, John, when he was just 32 and later her husband Graham, aged 74.

Jill Thornton's mother-in-law Joan (Jill Thornton)

“When every day is the same in a care home, (six weeks) must feel like six years,” Ms Thornton, 55, told the PA news agency.

“I can definitely hear now in her voice a lack of connection that there was even two or three months ago.

“They’re such a polite, generous, and respectful generation that they don’t like to make a fuss… unless people actually start speaking out about it now, they’re going to be forgotten.

“Visiting an elderly relative is not a luxury, it is absolutely essential to not only their mental health, but their physical health as well.”

In an open letter to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, 60 organisations, researchers, professionals and bodies representing relatives, carers and providers, brought together by the National Care Forum, said that prohibiting visits denies residents their human rights.

They said banning visits is “intrinsically harmful” and causes “extreme anguish” and that the “default position” should be that care homes are open for visiting with mitigation measures.

Lydia Loader, 32, said her father had been visiting and supporting her mother Sally Ann Loader, who has dementia, in her Sheffield care home every day before the pandemic.

Lydia Loader and her mum Sally Ann

After the outbreak, these had to halt, but Ms Loader took a volunteer job working inside the care home after being furloughed as a make-up artist.

“It meant that I could report back to my dad,” she told PA.

“He really was not coping because he couldn’t go in and see mum, so it actually helped him a lot.”

She said the halt in visits in the area due to Tier 3 rules has taken its toll on residents.

“Some of them have been really down and can’t understand why their families are not coming in,” she said.

“It affects the residents because they feel so down, it takes away the things that make them happy and so it makes them feel depressed.”

Alex Webber’s mother is also in a care home in Sheffield and struggles to communicate due to Parkinson’s disease and increasing cognitive impairment.

The family had been visiting the 95-year-old every week since her husband, Ms Webber’s father, died in August.

“Mum was with him when he died, holding his hand,” explained Ms Webber, 67, from south London.

“We rushed to Sheffield to see Dad and to comfort Mum… wearing PPE, we were able to be close to Mum emotionally and physically.”

Ms Webber said the family is lucky as the care home is “very humane” and gives “great care” but new local restrictions have meant the family has been unable to visit since October 24.

“She isn’t easy to talk to and has largely fallen silent on the phone… but when we visit, we can communicate using body language and visual cues,” said Ms Webber.

“We can talk about Dad, joke, sing songs to her and read familiar poetry. We are thinking all the time of ways to connect and keep her enjoyment of life alive.

“We look forward to being able to see Mum again soon but know too well that we could lose her first.”

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