James Rycroft, managing director at provider of specialist dementia care Vida Healthcare (www.vidahealthcare.co.uk), discusses the role of technology in promoting and enabling connectivity in care homes, and how this can reduce feelings of loneliness in a care home setting.
Loneliness and social isolation in care homes
More than a million older people say they go over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member1. Even in a care home setting where there are more opportunities for people to have social interactions with staff and other residents, isolation and loneliness can still occur. Loneliness and social isolation are both factors that are known to have a severe negative impact on the physical and mental health of any person. Depression, and other mental health conditions can develop or become worse in a person who is experiencing loneliness and feels socially isolated2.
When an older person moves from familiar surroundings into a care home, it can cause feelings of stress as they have to become accustomed to a new home, new routine and having different people around them. The move can be both a physical and emotional adjustment and feelings of loneliness can arise, especially if the care home isn’t located in the community that they previously lived in.
Older people who may be living with long-term health conditions are at particular risk of experiencing social isolation and loneliness3. Within this transitional period in an older persons’ life it is crucial for them to stay connected, whether this be with existing friends and family or by forming new connections with residents and staff members.
Digital solutions can help residents remain connected to their loved ones and the outside world, reducing social isolation and loneliness. Technology solutions may be utilised by care home operators to keep their residents connected to the people who are important to them. These online interactions with loved ones can make a significant difference and have a positive effect on a resident’s mental health and wellbeing.
Utilising technology to combat loneliness
Investment in technology has numerous benefits. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the uptake of technology in care homes, in large part due to the restrictions on visiting. Technology enabled families to stay in touch with their loved ones, even when they were unable to visit care homes in person.
Being digitally included can help older people stay connected with family and friends, even when they are physically apart. Even before the pandemic, technological solutions had already begun to see implementation across social care organisations. The sector is faced with a variety of unique challenges that professionals work tirelessly to overcome, and the accessibility of smart technology like smartphones and tablets offers new ways for providers to engage with staff, residents, and their families.
Technology may seem daunting at first and building a positive experience with new technology is crucial for people, including staff and residents, who are nervous about, or new, to smart devices4. Using technology can help residents to maintain social connections, which in turn can support them in maintaining their independence and improving their wellbeing.
Care home staff also play a significant role in easing feelings of loneliness, particularly when family and friends live further away and may have less time to visit. Initiatives, such as cutting edge technology, can free up staff time so that they have more opportunities to socialise with residents and spend valuable time with them.
Technology in practice
Vida Healthcare has developed and launched an app to maintain connectivity between staff, residents and family members across Vida’s three homes. Team Talk is user-friendly and gives families instant access to catch up on the health and wellbeing of their loved one through posts and updates, including videos and images. This creates a sense of community even when family and residents may be physically apart and enables connectivity with their loved ones to reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
Developing apps and other technology like Family Team Talk is crucial to keeping families reassured and able to keep in touch with our residents when it may be difficult to visit in person. Team talk is currently being adapted to suit the wider care market and will soon be available to other care providers to improve communication and connectivity.