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Virtual visiting project helps fight loneliness

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Published on 21 April 2021

Courtney Pratt talks to one of the residents
Courtney Pratt talks to one of the residents

Residents at a Sunderland care home have been taking part in a programme that uses technology to combat loneliness.

Sunderland City Council’s community rehabilitation team are working alongside our University to connect Occupational Therapy degree students with customers in Farmborough Court Intermediate Care Service.

Farmborough Court is an intermediate care rehabilitation unit. It is operated by Sunderland Care and Support and provides short term multi-disciplinary rehabilitation interventions to customers on a pathway from hospital after an acute illness, or to prevent an unnecessary hospital admission.

The virtual visiting project aims to help alleviate loneliness as many customers have been isolating in their rooms due to infection control measures, stemming from Covid 19 restrictions. The project also allows the students the opportunity to practice their communication skills and develop their experience around technology.

The students make their calls from the University campus, while the customer can chat from a tablet set up in their room in Farmborough Court.

Courtney Pratt, 23, from Easington Village, is in the first year of her Occupational Therapy degree and has been taking part in the programme.

She said: "Being offered the opportunity to get involved with the virtual visiting project was something I jumped at. It's been great to put into practice the skills I have learned on my course and it has given me the confidence during the placement, interacting with service users and managing my own case load.

"I have developed interpersonal skills and used therapeutic models of building trusting relationships with service users. It’s such a privilege having the opportunity to improve my skills and to make a difference to people’s lives. I have enjoyed being able to support them, listen to them and encourage them to talk and share their experiences with me.

 "As part of the project I have taken part in virtual visits, since visiting has been restricted due to COVID 19. I feel as though it has benefitted both myself and services users.  

"It has given the customers a purpose as they are helping me gain the skills I need to work towards becoming a competent occupational therapist. Having virtual contact has been fantastic as most people have been isolated for a considerable amount of time, it has been positive for their health and well-being. I also think this way of connecting provides the older generation with new skills, as some have never used technology before and could offer them alternative ways to communicate with friends and family to prevent isolation when returning home."

Angela Porritt, community rehabilitation team manager at Sunderland City Council, said: "With this project, the technology itself isn’t innovative but when we’re working with people in their 80s to 100s, using an iPad and FaceTime is innovative to them. It helps with the culture shift of using technology in everyday life while also helping to connect families.

"We had one customer who was very apprehensive, she didn’t have a smartphone or anything, but she engaged really well with Courtney and when I spoke to her after her call she said it was lovely to feel like she was really connecting with somebody. This project is benefitting customers both by helping them to use technology and by giving them the chance to have a real conversation with someone outside of Farmborough Court."

Courtney Pratt added: "Working in collaboration with Sunderland City Council and Farmborough Court I have been able to gain experience as part of an innovative programme working through the occupational therapy process, problem solving and developing communication skills in preparation for future placements and my career. By providing a small amount of my time, I have been able to support and make a difference to people’s lives in these unforeseen circumstances."

One of the temporary residents who Courtney has been speaking to is Jaqueline. She said: "Having the opportunity to talk to someone properly has been great. It can feel really lonely in here at times, as I really only see staff when I need help or at mealtimes. The staff are lovely but they are not able to sit and have a chat, I don’t see any of the other people staying here as we need to isolate in our rooms and my family at the minute are not able to come and visit. I understand why, but it means the days are very, very long.

"I have not touched a tablet before, and not great with my phone even, but it was great to have a go and to do the video call!"

 

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