Magnified enormously under the shroud of COVID-19, the benefits of a connected social care sector are easily seen.
Duncan Levey from Care Communications Solutions explains why keeping in touch is more important than ever.
The UK Government has instructed more than 1.5 million older and vulnerable people to remain locked-down in their own homes. This is on top of the 1.4 million people that Age UK had previously identified as lonely and vulnerable before the COVID-19 outbreak. The Chief Executive of The Relatives and Residents Association said,
‘We all know that it’s the people that surround us who are important; a phone call, a visit filled with laughter, a chance to chat about the things that matter. It’s tragic to think of older people in care without any of these things in their lives.
‘The world has been moving online. The internet has taken over from letters, the computer is where we keep our photographs. Isolation not only happens in care homes but also at home. The internet can provide us with a fantastic opportunity to increase the interaction with our parents and grandparents, to engage the whole family socially, especially the younger grandchildren.’
With this in mind, it’s important to assess the provision of internet in care services and in the homes of older people. One recent survey from Age UK found that, out of nearly 19,000 care homes sampled, only 3,000 had internet provision. This lack of internet, and subsequent narrowing of communication options, plays an important role in the problem of older people being socially excluded. It increases the likelihood of them being disengaged and isolated, and this in turn is dramatically worse for those living in social care – and never more so than under coronavirus lock-down.
We know the number of elderly ‘silver surfers’ is growing, but it is still very low compared to younger age groups. Looking specifically at care homes, housing approximately 400,000 residents, only around 40% have ever used the internet.
In addition, there is the question of the quality of the wifi in the homes of older people, and within many care homes too. This is improving as time goes by, but it remains slow and patchy.
There are without doubt very positive signs that internet access provides a real, life-enriching difference to the older population, while supporting person-centred care. Interestingly, these positive impacts of internet access extend beyond the people using care services to include the staff, relatives and actual businesses of care homes and domiciliary care providers. University studies show improvements in mood, engagement and communication after only two to three months, and the overall upturn of inclusivity for all stakeholders has, in some instances, led to an all-round improvement in levels of care.
Improvement in mood and levels of anxiety amongst both staff and the people they support leads to a restoration of confidence and motivation; a willingness to engage and seek inclusion. It drives communication and maintenance of social contact, family contact and personal community. All of which leads to mental stimulation and even more physical activity too.
Service providers in social care should be pushing hard the upgrade of connectivity and particularly communication devices for the people they support. The benefits of a connected older population are there for all to see, especially in the midst of the biggest health and care crisis in modern times.
Ruby from Care Communications Solutions provides a state-of-the-art, person-centred communication tablet supporting people to remain fully engaged with their own personal community.
Ruby connects care as well as an umbilical link to family and friends. People who are unable to leave the place they live can be a virtual guest at any family events.
Favourite websites and interest streams, games, webcams, films, music, books and articles are all accessed easily. It doesn’t rely on the internet as it is mobile 4G connected, as well as being able to connect to wifi, so is usable in most environments.