For many of us with relatives in care homes, the past few months have brought several highs and lows as lockdown continues.
As an accredited solicitor for the elderly (SFE), and with relatives in care, the impact of the events of 2020 on older people and in particular the ability of care homes to deal with the threat of coronavirus has held particular significance for me.
Encouragingly, there been many moving stories of hard-working care staff making every effort to protect those in their care. Some even making the personal sacrifice of not seeing their own families for weeks at a time to isolate and shelter their residents from the virus.
Plus, we’ve seen so many creative ways people have come up with to keep residents entertained and stimulated when their usual routine is disrupted, ranging from socially distanced outdoor summer parties to playing bingo from the doorways of their rooms.
During the summer months and into the Scottish autumn, many care homes were able to offer families the option of meeting residents outdoors in a garden or car park or through a window. Indeed, a lucky few designated relatives (one family member per resident in Scotland) were able to meet their loved one indoors, dressed in full PPE (although social distancing is still required, and touching is forbidden).
Hardest hit are those who are unable to understand why their family and friends are no longer coming to see them, or can’t experience their usual interaction with visitors.
Some residents, such as those who use sign language, find themselves cut off from communication with visitors who can sign to them and are faced with the added barrier of the compulsory face mask which renders them unable to lip-read their care workers.
These factors, and others, can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some of the residents. This can be particularly challenging as winter is upon us with reduced daylight hours as a few more months of lockdown passes.
Fortunately for some, they have access to an iPad or tablet which they can either use independently or with assistance to FaceTime, Skype or Zoom their loved ones.
These are extremely valuable interactions and, thanks to the benefit of technology, both families and residents can hear each other’s voices, see their expressions and still feel part of what’s going on.
Of course, nothing beats the warmth of physical human contact, particularly to a generation that has never been dependent on technology to the extent we are today.
After all, it is possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated.
So, what can we do?
On a practical level, Ledingham Chalmers raised more than £3,000 in December to support local care homes that we have a personal connection with through our staff.
We are not alone in doing so.
Many care homes have found great support from the local community, either through donations of supplies or even tablets to keep that digital communication going.
We can keep in touch with residents in care too — whether through letters, phone calls or video chats, send cards, drawings and messages, perhaps with the odd magazine, crossword or biscuit tin.
We can ask how they are and whether there is anything that would help — be it a favourite music tape, jigsaw or audio book to give them something to look forward to doing on a winter’s day.
For the legal profession, attending to our clients in care homes is just as important as ever, in line with government and care home rules and requirements.
Residents and families should not feel the need to put off any instructions they have — whether it is for a will, power of attorney or financial advice. We may not be in our offices, but we are hard at work remotely.
In fact, since the first lockdown in March we’ve taken part in hundreds of Zoom and WebEx calls to support our clients across a range of legal matters.