Home Farm stories: As residents cut off from families, isolation brings “a fear of being forgotten”

Sylvia Ladlow and husband Stefan Davies, pictured just before lockdown

“One of the greatest fears for someone going into a care home is that family will stop going to see them and they’ll be forgotten about – I worry that’s now how my mum feels.”

It’s over two months since Diane Smith last saw her mother, and she’s growing increasingly concerned about the mental and emotional toll of continuing restrictions around family visits to care homes.

Diane’s mother, 73-year old Sylvia Ladlow, has advanced dementia and is one of just four residents of the Home Farm nursing home in Portree not to have tested positive for coronavirus.

The home locked its doors to visitors on the 12th of March, so Sylvia spends her day within her room, largely confined to a chair and visited only by care workers clad head to toe in protective plastic.

Sylvia moved into the nursing home two and a half years ago – but she was well known in the community as the former head teacher at Borrodale school in Glendale, for her work at the Tigh na Drochaid resource centre and through competing at the Mòd with Portree Gaelic Choir.

Diane says she fully understands the need for restrictions to help halt the spread of a virus which has brought devastation to Home Farm, but she is also anxious that continued isolation could amount to neglect for those in the latter stages of their lives.

Diane chatting to her mum via video call

She added: “Physically she seems well – she’s still eating and drinking ok, but as far as her emotional and mental well-being is concerned, it’s very worrying.

“She’s gone from seeing family every single day, to looking out the window from her chair.

“She’s isolated with very little activity and stimulation.

“It’s the thing she feared most – being forgotten.”

Visiting in the home is currently restricted to those saying their final goodbyes to loved ones –  although some families have reported difficulties in being allowed to do even that.

Diane hopes that with the additional resources of the NHS now committed to help at Home Farm, some way to allow families in for limited visits may be found.

She added: “My step-father, Stefan, would like to just take her back home, though for the level of care my mum now needs it would be very difficult to do that.

“Staff have been helpful in arranging video calls, but she doesn’t understand that we are on the screen and shouts that she wants to see us and asks why we are not there.

“For infection control reasons some of my mum’s personal possessions also had to be taken away.

“It’s very distressing for residents and families, and the longer this goes on I think it needs to be addressed.

“I would like to see visits from close family members being allowed for regular short periods with the appropriate protective PPE and procedures in place.”

Following intervention from NHS Highland last week Diane felt her mother’s level of care had improved, but she had noted staff concerns at Home Farm long before the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The staff there have been doing the best that they could, but I did think there were some issues with management,” she added. “They seemed to be very short staffed, particularly in the evenings.

“It’s hard to know from the outside, but I walk past the home every day while out with the dog, and since last week there are substantially more vehicles parked outside, which would suggest staffing levels have increased.

“There is obviously a lot of people now coming in and out of the home to work. Perhaps up to 100 people.

“I’d like to think it could be possible, and safe to also allow some families in.”

The latest national guidance, issued on 15th May, said “visiting must be restricted to essential visitors only”, though it does also appear to offer some hope to families like Sylvia’s.

It adds: “Essential visitors include appropriate health and care staff based on resident need, for a person receiving end-of-life care, to support someone with a mental health issue such as dementia, a learning disability or autism where not being present would cause the resident to be distressed.

“It must be recognised that visiting will carry a risk to visitors, particularly in care homes where there is an outbreak.

“Therefore, appropriate risk assessment should be carried out and PPE issued where necessary.”