“I’ve only lasted half-a-day today. I feel tired and weary and I just needed to get away from the office.”
This was social worker Pam Stopforth speaking today on her first day back at work after a week pretending to be a lonely and isolated older person as part of social experiment organised for Isolation Week.
The experience, which included wearing vision-impaired glasses and diving gloves in order to carry out specific tasks and living alone without speaking to anyone for a week, proved unexpectedly taxing but left her with insights as to how to improve her own practice.
Prior to the experiment, she had been working with Liverpool Hope University to look at how social work students and volunteers can be used to provide low-level support for older people living in the community or in care settings.
Now Pam, who is the dementia development co-ordinator for Liverpool-based social care enterprise PSS, is determined to use social work students or volunteers in some form of befriending service where people phone up or visit older people for a chat on a regular basis in order to check whether they are well.
She points out this will not cost much and needs to be offered to people as part of a menu of support options, particularly for people who may find it difficult to get out. This was pertinent for her as she found the tasks had left her with a bad back, making walking difficult.
During the experiment, which was run by the charity Friends of the Elderly, she was particularly struck at how she lost motivation through depression by not going out and seeing people.
In the last of a series of daily blogs, she wrote: “I can’t quite put in to words yet the depth of emotions I have experienced this week, but one thing is for sure – this experience will stay with me forever.”
Speaking today to Community Care she said: “I was consumed by lethargy. I had reports to write and I thought I could do them at my leisure during the week and get them all finished. But I didn’t have the concentration and lacked motivation,” she said.
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