Ellie is a care home worker and has been providing crucial support for their residents, including people living with dementia. Ellie hopes that sharing her experience will reassure people who are unable to visit their loved ones in care while there are visiting restrictions in place.
Coronavirus has made some things difficult when working as a carer. However, it has also pulled us all together and has shown us, even more, that loving and caring for other people can also give yourself a sense of joy.
The carers I work with agree that the most enjoyable thing about working in a care home is seeing the smiles on the resident’s faces.
‘To see happiness and laughter in those you care for is the most rewarding thing about being a carer.’
As carers, our main goal is to make the residents lives happy and keep them safe. Care home life can be not only pleasant, but a real joyous and cheerful place. We are like one happy family.
Contacting loved ones with video calls
Life in a care home during the pandemic is different than before, in a few ways.
The main difference being that for a long while we have had no visitors. This was not an easy decision for us to make, but keeping our residents safe was the most important thing. They have found the restrictions of visitors challenging.
Nonetheless, we have overcome this obstacle in creative ways, which means that our residents have still been in regular contact with their families and friends.
The families of our residents have received weekly video montages including pictures and videos of what we have all been up to. These videos really show how happy and contented everyone is at our care home.
One evening I sat with a resident while she had a video call with her daughter.
‘Although this lady is unable to speak due to her dementia, you could see the look of delight in her eyes as her daughter’s smiling face appeared on the screen.’
Dementia has taken away her ability to communicate, and she is unaware of what is going on outside, so she remains perfectly happy, content and calm.
Another gentleman watched a video on the TV that had been sent by his family, he gets these every week. As his children, grandchildren and friends each left messages of love and affection, his face lit up with an endearing smile that brought tears to everyone watching.
Activities in the care home during coronavirus
As well as keeping the residents safe, we have been keeping them busy. They love nothing more than spending the afternoon doing chair-based exercises, playing games, and singing along to their favourite music.
One of their favourite pastimes is bingo, they even enjoyed an exciting game of it through video calls with their families - not just traditional bingo, but musical bingo too!
‘The owner of our care home spent time with the residents making desert island discs.’
The residents really enjoyed taking a virtual trip back in time, spending the afternoon listening to wartime music. They chose their favourite songs, the staff compiled the track list and sent it to the families.
One of the residents has found delight in tending to the garden. She quite happily potters around, watering the plants and weeding the flower beds. She really enjoys this, and as well as fresh air. It gives her a responsibility.
Support from the local community
Activities have become even more important in part due to the lack of visitors – both family, and the normal community visits from the church and local school children.
The local village community have been incredibly kind and generous to our care home.
‘We have received all kinds of messages of love and appreciation.’
We had a very special visit from a horse, and a carer brought in her chicks. We have also received lavish donations including hand creams for staff, lots of sweets and chocolate, and homemade laundry bags.
Difficulties as a care home worker during the pandemic
One of the difficult things being a carer during the pandemic is trying to work out how much the residents should know. We don’t want to lie to them, but also don’t want to frighten them and cause concern. The TV channel had been switched over when the news story talked of lots of residents dying in care homes, and this just was not helpful for them to hear.
One morning, the newspaper was delivered. On the front in large font it read ’EVERYONE IS GOING TO DIE IN CARE HOMES’ (or something like that). Initially, the owner thought it best to tell the residents that the paper hadn’t come, but then decided that she had to be honest.
She handed it to them and said, ‘I am giving you the paper, but please don’t believe everything you read, and I give you my word, I will do everything in my power to keep you and the staff safe.’
The residents replied with a ‘Thank you for being honest, we know you will!’
How better government support could help our care home
As carers, to protect ourselves and the residents, we have to wear masks at all times. Although we know this is necessary, it has been somewhat unsettling for some of the residents. A few of the residents who have dementia rely on the carers’ facial expressions for their peace of mind, so we have been even more reassuring and compassionate.
Other ways we have been keeping our care home coronavirus-free includes often and thorough hand-washing, taking our temperatures at the start of every shift and not wearing our uniforms to work or home.
‘They may seem like small things, but they could be the reason we have no coronavirus symptoms in either staff nor residents, and that is no small thing.’
I had a chat with the owner and the manager of the care home, and they both agreed that they think there is more that the government could do to support care homes.
They said that it would be helpful if the MPs asked owners and managers of care homes what support they need, instead of just telling them, without understanding what actually goes on in a care home. All care homes are not the same, there should be no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The government had suggested keeping a 2-metre distance between residents. If MPs visited care homes, they would see that it just wouldn’t work and could be detrimental to the resident’s wellbeing.
Care homes could also benefit from visits from MPs so they can see firsthand the struggles, what extra support is needed, and what it takes to run a care home successfully.