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Blog:  COVID-19 shapes elderly communities to combat loneliness

Blog: COVID-19 shapes elderly communities to combat loneliness

In her latest blog, April Marsden reflects on the increasing isolation of the older generation as 2020 continues to be a period of uncertainly and anxiety and how the learning from COVID-19 can shape elderly communities to combat loneliness.

All this homeworking has been very lonely!

We, humans, are social creatures, so being alone generally goes against the fabric of our essence.

However, these past five months have given us insight into what it must be like for elderly and vulnerable people, who may live alone and have few friends or family visiting regularly.

There is a swathe of older people who confine and restrict their activity. Perhaps because they feel out of touch, perhaps because they do not have reason to or perhaps because they are afraid.

Fear has been ruling our lives and ultimately for good reason. But fear should not have been preventing our older people from living happy and fulfilled lives before the lockdown.   

With the current pandemic, further restrictions were implemented in housing with care for our most vulnerable. The pandemic has also highlighted the disparities in services and provision between facilities and between communities. Whilst retirement living and extra-care developments appear to have fared well, residents in traditional style care homes have felt the brunt of the pandemic. 

This strengthens the need for a higher standard of the design and provision of spaces, culture, management and operations of our care homes.

Aside from the fact that care home residents are often much more vulnerable than those in some sort of independent living quarters; it has been shown that widespread issues around staffing resources, sick pay and the like, have directly impacted the spread of the virus. 

In any case, independent living and extra-care generally allow the provision of much more personal space for residents and are generally set in newer, purpose-built facilities.

Many care homes have been crafted out of older properties and are simply not fit for purpose anymore.  The flow around the properties is often not ideal when it comes to minimising the spread of viruses.  Older properties often have older surfaces that are more difficult to clean and take care of; fresh air is often a problem and a lack of funds has resulted in fixtures and fittings that often need replacing and upgrading. 

As we enter our new normal, it is worth remembering this group of people. The people who will not be venturing out not for fear of contagion but because they are simply alone.

More needs to be done to improve the continued quality of life for our older generation. Improved care and management, absolutely, but architecture and design play an integral part in wellbeing.

Consideration of movement in and around the home, the layout of the developments and the provision of additional, smaller communal spaces; not only to allow for ‘bubbles’ but also allow for more intimate, more supportive communities to evolve.

Our care homes need to be better integrated into our communities, communities in which our older people can feel a part of and where they feel safe and not forgotten. 

The Housing Lin’s in-depth analysis and recommendations on how to combat loneliness and isolation can be found here.

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