Harrowing photographs today lay bare the toll the pandemic has taken on care home residents – many of whom have spent almost a year in isolation.
These shocking before and after images illustrate how the elderly – torn apart from their loved ones by visiting bans – have suffered dramatic declines in their mental and physical health.
Last night charities and MPs said the ‘inhumane’ bans must never be allowed to happen again while campaigners said Britain will ‘look back with horror’ on the way it has treated those in care homes during the crisis.
Sylvia Griffiths (pictured above before and after) had always taken great pride in her appearance, wearing lipstick and doing her hair every day. Now the 80-year-old does not recognise herself in the mirror
Today Boris Johnson will unveil plans to reopen homes to visits from one friend or family member per resident from March 8.
They will be allowed regular visits and will be permitted to go indoors to hold hands – but not hug or kiss – as long as they have tested negative for Covid and are wearing PPE.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this was the first step in easing visiting restrictions and the Government will ‘allow greater visiting in a step-by-step way in the future’.
But experts say it is ‘too little too late’ for thousands of residents, some of whom no longer recognise their spouse, sons or daughters.
Mum used to look great, now she has just given up
Sylvia Griffiths (pictured above before and after) had always taken great pride in her appearance, wearing lipstick and doing her hair every day.
Now the 80-year-old does not recognise herself in the mirror. Mrs Griffiths was moved into a care home last June and has struggled enormously without seeing her two children every day to help keep her memories alive.
Since November even window visits have been banned at the home in Essex.
Her daughter Lynn Osborne was finally able to see her last Sunday, when Mrs Griffiths was admitted to hospital after a fall.
But Mrs Osborne, 57, said: ‘When mum went into the care home she looked great. She loves make-up and would always put on foundation, eyebrows and lipstick.
‘When I saw her in the hospital her hair was dishevelled and she looked unkept. This is not how she would like to live.
‘She doesn’t recognise herself in the mirror any more because she’s not got lipstick on.’
Mrs Osborne, who used to see her mother up to three times a day, said: ‘She is sad and has just given up. All she used to talk about was her husband and her cat Boris. Now she has completely forgotten about them both.’
The only time they have been able to hug was when Mrs Griffiths was admitted to hospital last week. Mrs Osborne added: ‘She said, “It makes me so happy to see both my children.” I started crying because it meant she still knew who we were.’
For many of the UK’s 410,000 residents – 70 per cent of whom have dementia – 11 months of loneliness has caused them to ‘lose their ability to eat, drink and speak due to isolation’.
Families fear that unless the new guidance is backed with a law, care home providers will still find ways to shut their doors.
The new rules force residents to choose just one family member or friend who can visit indoors, with some facing heartbreaking choices about which loved one to pick.
Diane Mayhew, from Rights for Residents, said: ‘Unless the Government passes legislation to make visiting guidance mandatory we expect many care homes will continue to lock relatives out.
‘For thousands of families, this new guidance will come too late.
‘Many residents have already died of loneliness and isolation – without being able to say goodbye to their families.
‘As a country, we will look back with horror on the inhumane and barbaric treatment of care home residents over the past year.’
Seeing dad is heartbreaking
Smiling as he presented his beloved wife of 63 years with a bouquet of red roses last Valentine’s Day, dementia sufferer John Ross looked joyful.
However, the great-grandfather of nine now appears grimly transformed by the toll of the pandemic and being separated from his loved ones.
Mr Ross, 89, who lives in a care home in Liverpool, has seen his wife Marlene for just 20 minutes through a window since last March.
John Ross, 89, is pictured above on Valentine’s last year with Marlene. Today, right, he looks a broken man
His daughter Penny Ogden, 59, and her four siblings have seen him just a handful of times.
When they are allowed to see Mr Ross, who has 21 grandchildren, Mrs Ogden said the visit is often heartbreaking and difficult because he is confused and tells them: ‘I’ve got nothing left to live for. I want to die.’
Mrs Ogden, a semi-retired book keeper, said: ‘He just looks absolutely awful. He’s lost so much weight, he’s not eating or drinking. He has changed so much.
‘The photos prior to lockdown and now show his deterioration – it is unbelievable.’
Mrs Ogden said that when he was reunited with his wife in September ‘all he did was cry’.
No hugs, and now we can’t even phone him
Martin Jannaway’s wife and daughter are both highly qualified carers with years of experience working in care homes.
Yet they have been forbidden from giving the 65-year-old a hug for the past year.
Mr Jannaway, who has dementia, has suffered hugely from the lack of contact with his family. This time last year he could eat, drink, exercise and speak.
Now he has lost all speech, is doubly incontinent and cannot eat or drink unaided.
Martin Jannaway, who has dementia, has suffered hugely from the lack of contact with his family. This time last year he could eat, drink, exercise and speak
His daughter Joanne, 36, said: ‘I’ve been allowed a handful of outdoor visits, but haven’t had any physical contact with him since March.
‘I’ve worked as a private carer throughout the pandemic. But I’m not allowed in to give my dad a hug even though they have agency carers in all day.’ She is horrified by the amount of weight he has lost and has pleaded with the care home managers to let her visit.
But they have refused, even now she has been vaccinated.
Miss Jannaway cannot have phone conversations with her dad because of his loss of speech, which she said ‘was the final straw of losing him entirely’.
She added that the new guidance did not go far enough.
She said: ‘We’re a very big family but he will only be allowed to see one of us. I fear it’s another way of the Government giving us false hope.’ Mr Jannaway, from Chichester, was diagnosed with dementia six years ago at the age of 59.
His wife quit her job as a care home manager to look after him full time, before he was moved to a home last February.
Michael Blakstad, whose wife Trisha is in a care home with Alzheimer’s, said the new guidance is ‘too little too late’.
Mr Blakstad, 80, said that if measures to allow visits had been brought in earlier it would have saved his wife from ‘going completely down the hill’.
‘She’s now in advanced dementia,’ he said. ‘The manager in the present home is sure that is due to the restrictions of Covid.’
Meaningful care home visits restarted briefly in December following a major Daily Mail campaign, which led to the rollout of rapid tests for visitors.
But several care homes ignored the guidance and campaigners fear today’s announcement on the road out of lockdown could be another ‘false dawn’.
They are backing new legislation, drawn up by Parliament’s human rights committee, which would give relatives the legal status as ‘essential family carers’ and make outright bans illegal.
Labour’s care spokesman Liz Kendall said: ‘To have any confidence that things will really change, we need legislation to enshrine residents’ rights to visits and end the scandal of blanket visiting bans.’
James White, head of public affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘We urge for restrictions to be eased further… to allow sons, daughters and grandchildren to see their loved ones too.’
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said the new guidance means hundreds of thousands in care homes ‘can realistically hope that their nightmarish separation will be coming to an end soon’.
But Helen Wildbore, of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: ‘Asking residents to choose a single constant visitor for face-to-face visits will lead to heart-breaking decisions between family members and friends.
‘The proposals fall far too short of what is needed to end the distress of isolation for the most vulnerable residents. For people with dementia and other conditions, touch is crucial.’
I should have been with her
Lily Henderson and her daughter Sue Bennett had lived together for 33 years until October.
Now the 93-year-old struggles to recognise her only child, after being moved into a care home following time in hospital for a knee injury.
Mrs Bennett, 66, is devastated by the dramatic decline in her mother’s mental and physical health during their five months apart.
She said Mrs Henderson had always been ‘fit and healthy’ and was well when first taken to hospital in October.
Lily Henderson, 93, is pictured above with daughter Sue (left, then) but today (right) she is confined to a wheelchair
But her mother was later sectioned and placed on anti-psychotic drugs. After three months she couldn’t walk unaided and was moved to a care home.
Mrs Bennett, from Liverpool, said: ‘I have only seen her properly three times since October. Before she went into hospital she could dress, feed, wash herself and walk up the stairs. Now she’s mostly in a wheelchair and can’t do anything.’
She added: ‘If I had been allowed to be with her it would be a totally different outcome.’