The pandemic’s invisible elderly

Older people holding hands
(Stock image via Unsplash/Nani Chavez)

Age UK Waltham Forest’s Befriending Manager, Terry Day, shines a light on the borough’s elderly residents still living at home, and the carers who support them…

“Oh no, please, not Peter* as well.” My heart sank when I heard that Peter had tested positive for Covid-19. He was the sixth older person in just two weeks since Christmas, who had caught Covid-19 from a carer visiting his home to provide essential care. 

Peter is 101, and living happily in his own home for many years – only very recently needing to have carer visits. How do I know he caught it from his carer? One of them tested positive for the virus, and I can’t imagine how bad the person who gave it to him must feel.

I am angry – not at his carer, but at a system which allows so many thousands of older people to remain invisible, forgotten. Older people who are still living in their own homes, but need help with tasks like washing, getting dressed, going to the toilet, and making meals. 

They are cared for by an amazing army of carers who are paid a pittance in a completely privatised system. They don’t get paid for the time it takes to travel between clients, nor are they supplied with adequate personal protective equipment. All too often, they have too many homes to visit in a day, with insufficient time in each visit to provide the basics – let alone just sit and chat. 

That is where I come in, as the Befriending Manager at Age UK Waltham Forest. We support an amazing army of 238 volunteers who each befriend an isolated older person – many friendships lasting for years – usually visiting every week, and since Covid phoning several times a week. Many of them have phoned every single day since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

All I hear on the news and from the government is about the elderly living in care homes. They matter, of course they matter. But the older people we befriend matter, too. 

The government has spent so many billions during this pandemic. They have funded care homes to make sure that their carers aren’t having to travel between care homes, potentially spreading infection. What about the domiciliary carers potentially spreading infection? And what about the housebound, who may receive their vaccination letter, but are physically unable to attend a centre or an appointment? I’ve seen these things happening with my own eyes.

At the time of writing, Peter is still alive – he’s one of the toughest, most amazing people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. But in the last ten months, 16 of my clients have died, average age 87. That’s four times the number that would normally die in a year. I am sure some of those deaths could have been prevented. 

*Name changed

If you are over 60, live alone and need a befriender, ring Age UK Waltham Forest on 020 8558 5512

If you’d like to volunteer as a befriender, visit Age UK Waltham Forest