The pandemic lockdown has left elderly Australians at risk of even greater social isolation driven by fear of COVID-19.
MyHomeCare CEO Stuart Miller said fear of catching COVID-19 had seen the number of clients accessing home care decrease significantly.
“They are scared of being lonely and are scared of being in contact with people who are sick,” Mr Miller said.
“We are currently down about four per cent on our regular numbers as clients push back from receiving their at-home care.
“At one point in the peak of lockdown, we were 26 per cent down and that plateaued to about 11 per cent.
“At that point we really tried hard to keep in contact with people and assure them staff are really abiding to safety and hygiene measures.
“We’ve been buying tablets for longer-term clients … we set up video calls with family for them. The important stuff is not just that one hour when a home carer is there with them, it’s the times we’re not and they’re left alone at home.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, loneliness has globally been recognised as a serious health problem, with many studies comparing the morbidity and risk of premature death from loneliness to that of well known risk factors such as smoking and obesity.
Mr Miller said the company’s carers had reported higher than usual signs of depression from their clients.
“Over winter, we are expecting things to get worse, especially as we know the duller, colder weather impacts how people feel,” he said.
“There are indicators to watch for depression and our carers are seeing an increase in these indicators. Word count is a big indicator, usually most people get out 150 words in the first minute of seeing you, with depression this word count is noticeable lower, around 50.
“Another indicator is a lack of commitment to future events, saying things like: ‘I don’t know if I can make it’ or: ‘I don’t care’. Also things like shopping, if they’re only purchasing small amounts of shopping without foresight for the future.”
Helen Habib’s 85-year-old mother Kathy Mikhail from Marsfield credits one woman for helping her cope through these unprecedented times — her Enrich Living Services care manager, Megan Mainwaring.
“Mum’s had home care for close to 20 years now because 25 years ago she was hit by a car and lost her leg,” Ms Habib said.
“She was originally getting home care once or twice a week but for the past three to four years she’s been having home care three times per day, seven days per week.
“Before COVID, Mum would have Tuesday where she would go to church, Saturday she would see family and Sunday she would go to church again. When COVID started … from February until only two weeks ago, Mum was at home with just carers.
“My sister and my brother and I all live some distance from Mum so we would take turns to go see her for a few minutes in the afternoon. Megan is Mum’s case worker and, without her, I honestly don’t know where we’d be.”
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