Relatives unable to visit and hug family in retirement homes endured a “range of negative emotions” which were “severe and often went unrecognised”, according to researchers.
The study team – led by the University of Edinburgh – is arguing for indoor visits for family and friends to be permitted if the isolation is “severely affecting residents”, and routine outdoor socially distant visits, if local restrictions allow.
Researchers conducted 36 in-depth interviews with family carers, held conversations with care staff, and completed a nationwide online survey of people with family in homes. They received 444 responses across 31 out of 32 local authorities in Scotland.
They found 76 per cent of respondents experienced mental distress due to Covid restrictions, which was higher among relatives on average if they did not feel well-informed by care staff.
They added: “Most policy makers and key figures in the sector had shown only a superficial understanding of lockdown’s impact on families.
“Respondents said there had been little acknowledgement of family as partners in providing care and a failure to fully understand the importance of that relationship.”
Lead researcher Dr George Palattiyil, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “It’s likely that the impact of relatives being unable to visit will be felt for years to come, especially in cases where a loved one died or became seriously ill.”
The paper said because the care sector had public, private and third sector providers, it was “difficult to implement national guidance in a consistent, equitable and appropriate manner”.
The research team also involved the University of the West of Scotland, the University of Strathclyde and the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services.
The study said more video-based communication was needed where in-person visits are not allowed.
It also said minority ethnic people in homes had seen pre-existing issues exacerbated by the pandemic, including a failure to meet their language and communication needs and a lack of support around faith and dietary requirements.
Dr Dina Sidhva, from the University of the West of Scotland, said: “The sector has much to learn from care homes that were able to innovate with new forms of communication.”
The paper added: “As we plan ahead, consideration should be given to examine the capacity of care home staff in managing care to ensure connectedness with the families and other relatives and friends of care home residents.
“This might involve the use of modern communication methods (such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp video calls etc), and provision of resources and opportunities for training staff in the use of such communication methods.
“In addition, provision of high-speed internet in care settings should be considered as a standard good practice.”
The full study, Understanding and Reducing the Psychosocial Impact of Coronavirus Social Distancing and Behavioural Changes on Families of Care Home Residents in Scotland, was published by the University of Edinburgh on Thursday.