Widowed at 35 and left to raise 10 children on her own, Maureen McCumesky is used to thriving at the heart of a big family.
Now 84, the former Boots chemist dispenser and hospital assistant has 31 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren – but she hasn’t seen them for months.
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago, she moved in January from her Cheadle bungalow into sheltered living, where she was visited regularly by her children and grandchildren. There were trips out for tea, regular walks, and she was fully involved in family life.
But then came the pandemic and, without as much contact with the outside world, her condition deteriorated and, following reassessment, she was moved to Bruce Lodge care home in Offerton in July.
Since then, due to strict Government rules on visiting care homes, she’s been allowed just a handful of garden visits with a few of her children – and Maureen, who is already failing to recognise some members of her family, is struggling to understand why.
Now her daughter Teresa Dumencic has added her voice to the growing chorus of relatives appealing for the Government to find a more humane way of treating care home residents during local lockdowns – especially as winter approaches.
Although new guidance gives care homes more power, in co-operation with Public Health bosses, to decide on visiting policies, there is a blanket ban on visits during local lockdowns. Charities including Alzheimer’s UK and the Relatives and Residents Association say this is hugely damaging to residents’ mental health – especially those living with dementia.
Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, has said a ‘workable policy’ is needed so relatives can see their loved ones in care homes, but families are growing weary of the wait.
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Among them is Teresea, 63, a mum of five from Warrington, who told the Manchester Evening News : “My mum is in limbo – God’s waiting room. Why are we wrapping her in cotton wool so she can live longer? The quality of her life is more important than the quantity of years she has left. When we come out of this she will know none of her family.
“When I phone my mum she asks when I’m coming, she asks why I’m not coming. She says she just wants to hug me.
“She can’t understand why she can’t see us. She is already forgetting who we all are.”
“It’s the isolation – she used to being part of a huge family. I know she’s being well looked after but the isolation is cruel.
“She’s going to be 85 next week and she would rather see her family and take her chances. If we keep her in there for another six months she won’t know who we are.
“We can go out for a meal, a drink, go to shops, banks, hairdressers, children are back at school.
“So why can’t our loved ones see their families? They have no voice.”
Teresa added: “This doesn’t have to be the case. If my hair dresser in the front room of a terraced house can put up screens, use PPE. it shouldn’t be that hard to facilitate meaningful visits.”
Teresa says the family have been writing to their MPs – but have heard nothing back.
When Teresa’s brother visited last week, he had to stand at the gate while his mum was wheeled on to the first floor balcony and they spoke over the the phone.
Teresa added: “It’s just heartbreaking. She couldn’t see him because she has macular degeneration and cataracts. She didn’t understand, she was distressed, it was awful.
“When the bad weather comes heavens knows what will happen – we won’t be able to see her in the gazebo.
“We are happy to be tested, to wear PPE – whatever it takes.
“I’ve only seen pictures of where my mum is living, I’ve never been inside.”
Maureen has seen other family members with Alzheimer’s spend their final years in care homes – and Teresa knows that quality of life is more important to her than ‘quantity’.
She added: “We have no worries around the care home – mum is warm, well fed and well looked after but it’s the social isolation and the fact her Alzheimer’s is advancing quickly and she won’t know us.
“She wants quality of life – not quantity. Two or three really good years with family around her are better than 10 years in a care home wrapped in cotton wool.”
What Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, said:
In a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Burnham said it had become ‘an increasing challenge’ for many people who have not seen husbands, wives, or parents with dementia for ‘many many months’.
He said they were now getting very worried about the condition of their loved ones, adding: “We mustn’t allow an over-protectiveness to cut off that basic human contact which is going to be pretty crucial. On that issue of care care home visits and shielding we need to come back with a workable policy, something that will work for people going through the next few months.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said:
“We know limiting visits in care homes has been very difficult for many families and residents who want to see their loved ones. Our first priority remains the prevention of infections in care homes to protect staff and residents, which is why more than 100,000 tests a day are being delivered to the social care sector.
“Through the Adult Social Care Winter Plan we are tightening infection prevention and control measures further to enable visits to continue safely where possible.
“The process of considering visits should be led by local Directors of Public Health who should give a regular professional assessment of whether visiting is likely to be appropriate within the local authority, taking into account the wider risks.”
As background, they added:
- We recognise how important it is to allow care home residents to safely meet their loved ones, especially for those at the end of their lives. We appreciate the particular challenges visiting restrictions pose for people with dementia, people with learning disabilities and autistic adults, amongst others, as well as for their loved ones.
- We published visiting guidance on 22 July 2020, which outlined how providers, based on the views of their local Director of Public Health, could take a dynamic risk-based approach to allow visiting where safe. In the Adult Social Care Winter Plan published on 18 September, we set out tightened infection prevention and control measures to enable visits to continue safely. Our July guidance will shortly be updated to reflect the changes announced in the Adult Social Care Winter Plan.
- These measures build on the published framework that allows local decision making, based on the assessment of the Director of Public Health and the care provider.