Photos, film and facetime: How GM care homes are tackling mental health in COVID-19

There have been growing fears in Greater Manchester over the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of care home residents.

Care homes across the country have been dealing with new challenges since the pandemic forced many to lock their doors in early March.

The UK government advised against non-essential visits to care homes from March 13, but many closed their doors earlier on March 10 and 12.

Some care homes are now starting to relax the rulings but here we hear from professionals, loved ones, and residents about what it has been like over the past three months of not being able to visit and not having visitors.

Dawn Weatherley, 86-year-old mother, Brenda is living with Alzheimer’s at Wellcroft care home in Gatley, which is part of Borough Care.

The 56-year-old said: “Mum has been at her home since February 2019 and they have been unreal from the start – but particularly through the pandemic.

“From day one of lockdown, the carers have encouraged us to send letters, and we have all sent cards as a family.

“Carers on shift will What’s App me photos of her with the letters, flowers we have sent, videos of her doing activities and photos.

“We have had FaceTime and telephone calls with her and they have brought her down to see us from her room at the gate, although she did find this quite difficult as she wanted a hug.

“But the care home staff have become her extended family when she says “I need a hug,” they say hug me and I will pass it on to Dawn. They have been absolutely fantastic.”

The uncertainty and separation caused by the pandemic has caused distress amongst some resident, particularly those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Chief Executive of Care England, Prof. Martin Green OBE, said: “I think anxiety is huge amongst residents as well as the distress of not being able to see your loved ones, but also not understanding why you can’t see them.

“Residents have had their routine completely thrown. It might be that a care home takes residents shopping or to the park every week and obviously that hasn’t happened.”

Video-calling platforms like zoom and facetime have been used to re-connect residents with their relatives.

Prof. Green added: “Obviously, technology can’t replace human contact and human touch but it has been very useful in certain circumstances.

“I think some care homes have been very quick off the mark to implement strategies to help their staff and residents. There are some really good examples of practice out there.

“What you don’t always hear about is what goes on behind closed doors but I think care homes are still lively and they’re not going to let this virus defeat them.”

Michael, Pat, Vera, Joyce, Bridget

Residents at EachStep care home in Blackley have expressed their concerns over coronavirus and can’t wait to see the people they love face to face again.

Bridget and Vera have both said they have found the lockdown difficult.

Bridget said she felt “terrible” and that she missed her family, while Vera said: “There is nothing new to talk about because nobody has been anywhere, but it is the way it has to be. Nothing can change that, but I hope it changes soon.”

Although finding it difficult, residents at the care home said they were trying to stay optimistic.

Michael, another resident, said: “I have missed my wife, but I understand why it has to happen. I don’t like to show my family I’m upset.”

Residents, like Pat and Joyce, have taken comfort from regular phone calls with family members.

Pat said: “I know my family is okay. My daughter rings me.”

Joyce added: “I have felt sad although all four of my boys ring up and speak to me often.

“I feel a little isolated being on my own, but the carers here have been a great help.”

Fear over the mental health of residents has also affected their family members.

Arnold

Tracy Annette, 55, said: “When I’ve expressed anxiety over dad, there’s been an assumption that it’s just a case of me missing him. But it’s not as much about me missing him as it is me being anxious about what his feelings are.

“I can’t determine how he’s feeling without having a proper conversation with him, without seeing him. I read so much from his body language from his posture, from how his eyes look, how he answers questions and interacts with me.

“These are ways that I’m able to judge his mood, judge his feelings, whether he’s fearful, worried, anxious. All of this I can pick up from physically spending time with him.”

Tracey has not been able to see her 89-year-old father, Arnold, at his care home in Manchester for three months.

Tracey and Arnold

Tracey believes that despite the difficulties of using video calls, there are alternative methods of reconnecting families.

She said: “It’s difficult for those with dementia to get around the concept of the video call.

“You cannot always put an iPad or a smartphone into someone’s hand who isn’t aware of that technology and expect them to engage in a face time conversation.

“We realised that probably wasn’t the best way forwards for dad, but we knew he would have comfort hearing my voice and seeing me.”

Tapping into past memories and using pictures and film have been effective ways of reconnecting Tracy with her father.

Tracey added: “I had massive concerns about the length of time that this was going to go on and whether he would forget us.

“Video messages and letters that we send every week try to reassure him that this separation has been forced upon us.”

Minute-long ‘goodnight and god-bless’ videos for Arnold contain loving messages from Arnold’s family members and even appearances from Tracey’s two parrotlets.

A photo album of past memories and a book of Arnold’s anecdotes, which are read to him by Tracey, have been used to soothe the pain of separation.

Tracey said: “I took a box into the care home and put a label on the top of it was ‘interesting things to look at and sweet treats to eat’. Inside it had photo albums, puzzles, a note pad and pen for him to have a doodle on if he wanted, and things he enjoys like a mars bar and other sweet treats.

“I’ve captured little snippets and stories that he’s told me over time and made them into a book I can read to him. On a good day, he’ll finish them off himself. Some days he’ll laugh and some days he’ll cry tears of joy.

“Photographs and artifacts can be fantastic tools, but they have to be used in the right way.”

Tracey has since been able to arrange a long-anticipated outdoor visit to see Arnold, at his care home in Manchester.

Charities like Independent Age have urged family members to stay in contact with older relatives, whether they’re living in care or shielding at home.

Simon Hewett-Avison of Independent Age said: “If you’re supporting an older relative either at home or in a care home, the best thing to do in the first instance is to try to stay in regular contact.

“You may be able to speak to the care home about making a socially distanced visit, for example, by speaking to your relative through a window.

“If your relative is self-isolating at home, they may still benefit from help with buying food and other supplies, such as collecting prescriptions, or may appreciate a delivery of books, magazines, or films that you think they’d enjoy.”

Information on mental health and practical support tools can be accessed on the NHS website:

www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mood-self-assessment/

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great article Ted and I hope others who are in same position as Dawn and I, will take comfort from knowing that others share their same concerns and worries.
    There were a few observations and quotes that stood out to me:
    A resident who commented that they don’t want their family to know that they are upset.
    Another who said, my boys call but she still feels sad (I suppose hearing their voice can be a reminder that you’re missing that physical connection.
    I do worry still that our beautiful family members are masking their own fears and anxieties by trying their best to put brave faces on.
    Time will tell. Let’s just hope that we have the time we need after this to build up resilience and assure our loved ones of our presence. And that there’s still a bit of summer to get out and enjoy freedom.
    Tracey

    • Thanks for your comments Tracey and for speaking to Ted about your dad. We hope you get to see him soon!

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