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Supporting people with dementia in care homes

April 9, 2020

Rishi Jawaheer, Director of the Jawa Group takes a look at some of the issues arising from COVID-19 that affect people with dementia, and what care home professionals can do to help.

Here, he shares how he and his team of care workers have dealt with some of the more unexpected consequences of the virus.

People who rely on care services need care no matter what is going on in the rest of the world. Providing that continuity of service and all the practical support that’s needed is our number one priority. But lock-down and coronavirus have got us all working in new ways. Here are some of the things we’ve been doing to overcome challenges.

Use technology with care

To protect residents, care homes have had to close their doors to visits from friends and relatives. This is a tough call to make, and one that has undoubtedly caused heartache for many. The natural instinct is to try to bridge the gap, keeping residents in touch with friends and relatives via video calls in place of face-to-face contact. For some, this has worked well, with the use of apps, but for others, particularly those with advanced dementia, we have noticed it can do more harm than good.

Most of the people we support are from a generation when video calling wasn’t the norm, or even really imaginable. Older people with dementia are used to seeing photos or televisions, but seeing a moving image of a loved one can be extremely confusing and sometimes overwhelming.

My advice is to use your judgement on a case by case basis. Using modern technology to keep in touch isn’t going to work for all. Of course, families want to know their loved one is ok, and they will benefit from being able to see them. To get around this, our team has found that one-way video calling (so families can see their loved ones, but residents don’t see their family) has worked really well.

Shutting off from the outside world isn’t all bad

Our instinct as humans is to want freedom, the ability to go out and about, see and experience new things and be with others. However, for people living with dementia, change can be unsettling. In more ordinary times, we all need to be conscious that while the usual flow of visitors is welcome to some residents, it may be a confusing break from a normal routine for others.

While we are forced to limit face-to-face social contact with people outside of care homes, it’s important to remind ourselves, and to reassure families, that residents have staff and fellow residents for company. They are not alone, and in fact, in many cases, residents may be calmer and more relaxed with this quiet, regular and uninterrupted routine. However, it is of course vital to ensure that people stay connected, that family and friends can get in touch and that anyone who might feel agitated by a lack of contact is able to access devices to communicate as they wish.

Considerations when using PPE     

Restricting the spread of infection and protecting care workers and residents is paramount during these times. Caring, by its nature, involves close contact and, as per Government guidelines, aprons, gloves and fluid-repellent surgical masks should be worn for activities that bring care workers into close personal contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms.

But we must remember seeing care workers wearing masks and other protective items isn’t normal for residents and can be unsettling. They may not recognise their care worker, or they may feel confused as to why care workers are wearing masks.

A friendly smile is an important part of their daily interactions but we have to ensure people are kept safe above all else. We are keen to change talk of ‘social distancing’ to ‘physical distancing’ because now more than ever, we need social interaction. Staff across our homes are being reminded to only use masks when necessary.

Of course, it’s important to maintain a sense of normality for our residents. When wearing masks is essential, our teams have taken to simple measures like making sure they tell people who they are when entering a room, and reminding residents about why they are having to wear PPE. Staff could pin a photo of themselves to their uniforms to help residents recognise who is behind the PPE, however it is vital that there are protocols and procedures in place to prevent spread of any infection and that these are being strictly followed.

Caring for carers

At the Jawa Group, our care workers are recognised as fundamental members of the team who keep the care home running. They are valued, respected and cared for at all times, never more so than now. Our care workers are unsung heroes. Right now, it’s important we do the little things to help them, as they are doing so much for us. We must do what we can for them to show them we appreciate and value them.

We’ve taken simple measures like offering all our staff a meal every day and giving them food supplies to take home to their families. We’ve also cleared some rooms and made them available for staff to stay if they have a difficult journey to and from work. Do what you can for care workers in your home. Understand their individual needs and support them as best you can.

Supporting the community

We have been very lucky in that COVID-19 has brought out the best in our local community. We’ve had great support from our local council and supermarkets, and local restaurants have even delivered food for our staff and residents.

It’s important that we all do our bit in our communities, supporting in whatever way we can. It provides genuine support and also helps towards much-needed feeling of positivity and care.

As some care homes are struggling to staff their kitchens, we are hosting a care home foodbank from our car park, for local care homes to come along and take away cakes, soup and other easily portable food for their residents.

There are lots of practical matters that are taking our time and focus at the moment. Where we can, we should all consider the wellbeing of those in care homes, their families and all in the care community and do what we can to make this time a little more positive. There’s a lot we can do to support each other. Sharing best practices and remembering that we are all in this together is a great place to start.

With thanks to
Rishi Jawaheer is Director of Jawa Group Care Homes. Email: Twitter: @carevisionuk

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