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Caring for Carers in our Community during the Covid Pandemic

  • Volunteers from St Finbarrs GAA found that when they dropped off food parcels to isolated people in the community, what they needed most of all was a chat
    Volunteers from St Finbarrs GAA found that when they dropped off food parcels to isolated people in the community, what they needed most of all was a chat
    Photo credit: Stephen Davies (St Finbarrs GAA)

Zibiah Loakthar our Cuimhne Coordinator writes:

National news coverage during the coronavirus pandemic to date has focused predominantly on cases of Covid–19 within hospital settings. There has been widespread recognition for the incredible work of those within the NHS and the volunteers from all communities stepping up to support it. 

Streets have been bursting into applause for NHS workers every Thursday evening. This has not been complacent applause. There has rightly too been outcry about the impossible positions NHS workers find themselves in, including that of being asked to step, without access to protective clothing, into situations which may expose themselves, and in turn those they live with, to coronavirus.

There has been far less coverage of the role played by care workers outside the NHS. News coverage has highlighted the worrying lack of coordinated data collected about cases of coronavirus in care homes. There has been little coverage of the impact the current lockdown situation may be having upon family carers who live with the person they care for.   

At Irish in Britain, we espouse values of equality and inclusion. Everyone’s life matters, and we uphold that everyone’s health matters too. Older people and people with underlying health conditions are not expendable, nor are care home workers or residents.

Sharing ideas

Over the last few weeks, Irish in Britain has held online forum meetings, bringing together our member groups to discuss the issues community and cultural groups and clubs are experiencing. People have been sharing creative practical actions groups are finding to adapt to the current lockdown situation and address new and emerging needs in the community such as online painting classes and online chair based exercise groups to help people remain connected as a community and promote healthy bodies, hearts and minds. 

For as long as there are issues to discuss and ideas to share these Irish In Britain forum meetings will continue. Please contact us if you would like to find out how you can contribute to a meeting.

Emerging from these online meetings, concern for older people self–isolating and living alone has been a consistent theme. Groups have been harnessing volunteers and team members in very practical ways, from ensuring everyone has food supplies delivered to lessening social isolation by organising regular telephone calls. 

One group reported that while their members were thankful for shopping drops, it was the chance to have a face–to–face chat at their front doors respecting the two metre distance that they were particularly grateful for. Consequently, volunteers dropping shopping have now been building extra time for a chat into their shopping drop off schedules.

Supporting people living with dementia

Some groups have expressed particular concern for finding ways to support people living with dementia during this time. A broad spectrum of support is needed. Those with early stage dementia able to live independently may have very different community support needs to those who may be living in care homes cut off now from usual familiar visitors.  

Memory loss may reduce people’s ability to grasp what is happening in the world about us. The current lockdown situation may be experienced as disorientating, disconcerting and distressing by any of us, but perhaps particularly so to those of us who cannot remember its rationale.

Emerging too from our forum meeting discussions has been concern for family carers in our community, including those who may not see themselves as “carers” but simply as family members or friends.  People may ably, willingly and cheerfully care for a family member living with dementia. At the same time, they may find doing so during this current period of lockdown particularly difficult.  Having to repeatedly explain to someone living with dementia what is happening, having to find inventive ways of distracting a person who wishes to wander outside, can be wearing and stressful.

The need for a chat

We also know that family carers often have health conditions themselves too. It can be tough to be living alone under lockdown with a loved one with dementia, where previous support from visitors can no longer take place in the same way and periods of respite may now only be very brief. While some family carers welcome a chat over the phone or the chance to join an online carers forum, others explain that holding a phone conversation or sitting at the computer for any length of time can be difficult to coordinate carefully around their family members’ needs. 

Family carers may acknowledge their need for some “me” time, not least so that they can continue to be compassionate carers but find it very hard in practice to create much me time for themselves.

Our Irish in Britain community seeks ways to help alleviate stresses that may be experienced by family carers amongst us. Ill effects upon family carers’ health during this pandemic are not to be cast as negligible, forgettable, regrettable. Let’s rather recognise the realness of the challenges family carers face and continue discussions about how as a community we can shore up support.

A resourceful and resilient community, we may not be able to remove all ill effects but collectively we might pool together ideas for how they can be reduced and made more manageable. Magic wands may be few and far between but listening ears and a space for people to express themselves can often be a simple but effective initial form of community support.

Contact if you want to find out about the work of Irish organisations in Britain.