As the deaths of people living in care homes continue to rise, one thing becomes clear: the Covid 19 virus is exposing, not causing, problems that have too long been filed in the ‘too difficult’ tray on decision makers desks. How do we as a nation fund the care that is needed for a growing population living longer lives, many with a dementia? Are we prepared to pay for the really skilled and expert attention that is needed to provide 24/7 care for ourselves, our families, our neighbours?
The media spotlight has quite rightly highlighted the hidden toll of Covid 19 related deaths within the frail and vulnerable care home resident population. It has finally pushed the government into including deaths in care homes and the community in the official figures. But will this spotlight bring government action to address the lack of PPE and testing, the staff shortages and exhaustion? Will the current lockdown be enough of a crisis this time, to jolt the system into real, long-term change? A change where we value older people (and the people who care for them) in a way that is not sentimental or nostalgic, but which translates into hard cash in local and national government budgets. A change which results in older people living in care settings being seen positively by the media. A change which brings about a different understanding across the generations about what it means to live a long life and end it with dignity?
And part of this is valuing the people who care for us. So will we also see a change here? Skilled care workers in care settings are bearing the brunt of this tragedy. Not only are they stepping up to provide nursing skills that are not part of their job description but also dealing with the trauma of having large numbers of their ‘family’ die. A trauma they are working through in order to continue to care for those that remain.
About 30 years ago, an older lady, came with me to the front door of her care home, to wave off a group of children, who’d just shared in an intergenerational drawing session with residents. She grabbed my hand and said, “Sometimes in here, we don’t know what day of the week it is, but when you come, we know we are not forgotten.”
At Magic Me our approach has always been to offer care homes new opportunities and great activities, here, now, today. But alongside this our longer aim is to ensure older people, their families and the whole care home community of staff, families and visitors are not forgotten. Joint activities with local younger neighbours, public showing of artworks and performances, all help older people to be more visible, recognised and valued as neighbours, when decisions are made at the town hall or in Westminster.
Glimmer of hope
This moment we are living through may provide a glimmer of hope for the forgotten people.
Millions of adults in the UK are currently experiencing, week by week, day by day, hour by slow hour, social isolation, in a way that they never have before. It’s one thing to hear or read about loneliness and social isolation for other people – it’s another thing to live it yourself. It may be several more months before we are able to go out and about again. Before that day comes, we all need to do one thing, now, that will help make the future better for the forgotten people. Write down what this isolation feels like, so that we have a permanent reminder. Because when lockdown ends for us, too many people will still be indoors, watching from the window, waving from the door. And they need us to remember what this feels like and to keep the pressure up, so things change, so no-one gets forgotten.
By Susan Langford MBE Director & Founder of Magic Me