RESIDENTS in Scottish care homes are experiencing “profound and worrying” levels of emotional and psychological harm as a result of lockdown restrictions, according to the chief executive of Scottish Care.

Donald Macaskill said that over the last fortnight it had become increasing clear that residents were struggling to cope, leaving those with dementia in “a maze of confusion” and facing distress and emotional trauma.

In an emotive plea, he said while the ongoing focus of care homes over the last six weeks has rightly been on sustaining life, it was now time for “a better balance” between restrictions imposed to stop infection control and the need to protect against psychological harm.

Most care homes have been in complete lockdown for six weeks, with family access severely restricted to end of life visits from one family member only.

The National:

Macaskill told the Sunday National that as lockdown restrictions began to lift in coming weeks, there was an urgent need to address the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in care homes “We are now seeing profound signs of psychological harm and my concern is that our decision to isolate may have failed to recognise that this is a unique population who are typically unwell and distressed,” he said.

“Over the last two weeks in particular it has become clear that the levels of distress, of emotional and psychological harm, upon those living with dementia in our care homes and in our communities in Scotland are becoming more and more acute and worrying.

“We now need a grown-up debate about how to balance physical with psychological health.”

About 90% of those in care homes have dementia and 70% are receiving end-of-life care. In a blog posted yesterday he added: “Lockdown from the perspective of someone living with dementia has been in many instances, quite frankly, simply hellish.

“Staff have spent a lot of time reassuring, being present, reminding and reaffirming individuals about what is happening. They have supported people to understand why family have not visited and have used technology to help people to remain in contact. But sadly, such measures have only worked for a minority.

“For many more this has been a maze of confusion, distress and very real emotional trauma. The familiarities of touch, eye contact, physicality and presence have been denied them. Despite all the best efforts of nursing and care staff, care homes even where there have not been cases have changed.

“Put simply, there is a difference between existence and living and for many living with dementia at the present time that balance seems not quite right.”

Urgent considerations should include upping staff ratios and ensuring one-to-one support for the most vulnerable, he said. Ways of enabling safe visits from loved ones must be found going forward, he added.

Solutions must also be found to help those with dementia in the community, who are also struggling, he added.

According to the weekly National Records of Scotland report, one third of all coronavirus deaths in Scotland so far have been in care homes. Nearly half of Scotland’s care homes have notified the Care Inspectorate of a suspected case.