Combating loneliness in residential care

On-demand modern communications help combat loneliness in residential care – but nothing beats the human factor

Never before have we humans and the communities in which we live been so closely connected thanks to digital technology, which allows us to communicate easily across multiple platforms. Yet loneliness is the scourge our times. Recent surveys indicate that almost 75 per cent of older people in the UK feel lonely.

Added to this paradox that overshadows our interconnected world are further reports that claim many nursing home residents suffer depression induced by a feeling of isolation and loneliness; some 60 per cent of those polled said they never receive visitors.

Residential nursing home facilities first and foremost should provide safety and a feeling of security.

But even the best care homes cannot remedy the natural feeling of missing one’s familiar surroundings, and a helplessness in not being able to change things because of a sense of powerlessness and loss of independence, despite the abundance of human activity and presence of staff and fellow residents.

In well-managed homes with trained and caring staff, such emotions can be allayed through sharing common rooms, meal times, entertainment and a well- structured care plan.

But once the door of the private room closes, the world can once more become a lonely place. So how best to combat these natural emotions and lessen long-term effects such as depression?

One way is to ensure residents remain in contact from the secure comfort of their own room by offering a range of easy-to-use communication channels, so staff, friends and family are just a click or dial away, and the fast-moving world outside is available to engage with – or indeed escape from – by surfing the TV’s channels.

Such facilities need to be made available in a personal, convenient way that even bedridden residents can get to grips with.

Good nursing homes set the bar in the war on loneliness by taking advantage of modern communications, according to leading care experts.

Affordability, while an issue, should not be an excuse for any care home to deny multiple communications options because digital technology is becoming ever cheaper and more accessible.

Vicki Rayment, from Age UK West Sussex, said the advent of social media channels, such as FaceTime and Skype, have opened up new lines of communications and can add to the armoury to combat loneliness and isolation.

“But they are only part of the tool kit. Social media and the readily available entertainment offered online, such as puzzles and brain teasers, have a positive impact when residents are supervised on how best to make good use of modern communications,” Vicki told C4S.

“Getting out of the room and ideally with regular visits outside the residential care to interact with people, and regular visits from friends, family and volunteers are crucial in combating loneliness.”

C4S visited one such connected residential home in Worthing, where all rooms have, as standard, 24-hour high-speed wi-fi, satellite TV, landline handset telephones with personal number if requested, and a two-way intercom alert call button.

“Ensuring our residents are able to contact the outside world, family and friends as well as staff at all times is a priority that we firmly believe helps combat loneliness and isolation,” says Fernbank manager Donna Harwood, a trained senior nurse with more than a decade of residential care experience.

“One vital channel is the option for residents to keep their home telephone number and have it transferred to the personal landline located in their room. This offers a sense of continuity.”

Resident Dorothy Deisch, 87, said the suite of modern communication devices added to her sense of security and independence.

“Having my long-held personal telephone number and own phone adds to the feeling of being at home and having the freedom to make contact when I choose,” she said.

The young don’t have exclusive rights to being addicted to their social media devices, says Donna.

“We have one resident who recently bought a new laptop and is glued to it so we are now having to encourage her interaction with other residents and get her to join in activities that don’t demand a screen – otherwise there’s a risk of her becoming a hermit in her room,” she says.

“Human contact is paramount, and as part of our individual detailed care plan we constantly assess who needs more contact. Offering the full suite of digital communication is must, but it’s only part of the battle to combat loneliness and isolation. Nothing will ever beat human contact and interaction with staff, friends and family, and this remains our priority to encourage and facilitate.”

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