Lessons in Lockdown – by Louise Houghton

All of us are currently having to cope with many difficult feelings & situations. During the last 7 weeks I’ve experienced both positives & negatives & would like to share some of them with you.

I knew that the social care system was struggling, but I always took for granted that there would be a safety net in a large-scale emergency like this. There isn’t. This has broken what was left of the underfunded & undervalued social care system, & many people are now desperate. There is very little joint planning & provision of comprehensive services for the elderly, & particularly those living with dementia. Local & government departments & agencies don’t know what each other are doing, with little recognition of local charities & the knowledge & services they provide. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, even within the same organisation.

There are wonderful carers & support staff in the public & private sector that are doing great work in supporting people like my Dad who is living with dementia. However, when the need for support arose, it very quickly became apparent that there was NO emergency care or support available & we were left to fend for ourselves. I had to move in to support my parents & help care for my Dad as my Mum was alone & without support. I gladly did it, it wasn’t an issue, we are surviving; but others are not so lucky. People are in despair, the feeling of abandonment is high, & lives have been lost.

What the crisis happens to be is almost irrelevant. This time, it is coronavirus, but it could have easily been something else. This was an accident waiting to happen. Successive governments have been warned about the struggling social care system, the need for joint planning, for more funding, for better organisation & co-operation between agencies, & urgent improvement in the standard of care. Now the worst has happened & the cost has been lives; lives that need not have been lost. Shameful.

My family always came first, but one of the positives during this crisis has been that moving in with my parents has only increased the love I have for them & made me value my family more. My way of life slowed down overnight &, whilst some people will have struggled mentally, I actually feel more content!! Although I am living with my parents & working from their home, I don’t have to be here, there & everywhere by a certain time. I am not rushing to meet up with people. My life has slowed down considerably & I really love it!!

People seem more considerate. Everyone being in the same boat means there is less competition & people seem friendlier. The number of conversations I’ve had with strangers standing on the opposite side of the street has been lovely. I can make do & mend a lot easier than I thought. I’ve become more creative in the kitchen, re-discovered the high-street butcher, greengrocer, & other small, independent family-run shops. I’ve also learned that people, when required, are innovative, adaptable, organised, professional & get things done in a timeframe that normally wouldn’t be achievable.

So there have been some positives. Apart from a dicey couple of weeks with a water infection, my Dad is OK & back to his old self (albeit with dementia). He is loved & supported by us, so it’s fine, but we are very lucky to have each other. Others are not so lucky, & the safety net that is supposed to be there to support anyone who needs care is either thin on the ground or completely absent. If anything positive comes from this crisis, I hope it is that the social care system, particularly in relation to dementia care, is tackled head on & fixed. If it isn’t, lives will have been lost in vain & when the next crisis hits – which it will – the outcome will be even worse.