Easing loneliness in lockdown: the nursing student initiative that’s just a call away
Making phone calls to isolated older people also helps nursing students develop their communication skills
Since lockdown began in March, many people have been living in isolation because they are in a vulnerable group, for example the over-70s.
Many older people were already at increased risk of loneliness before COVID-19, but without visits from friends or relatives, some go days, even weeks, without contact.
Older people at increased risk of loneliness during the lockdown
As a second-year mental health nursing student, I am now learning solely online as a result of the pandemic. Our local mental health trust is not taking second-year students on clinical placements at present, so I am working for my mum, who owns a gardening business, and also doing shifts as a healthcare assistant in a local nursing home.
Many of my mum’s customers are older people, and I started to notice that she was getting a lot of phone calls from her older clients, some of whom just wanted a chat.
After thinking about what I could do to help, I contacted several of my fellow students and we came up with a project that could support my mum’s older customers while also improving our own communication skills.
Phone call project helps older people feel less alone
We decided on a weekly phone call project; I speak to the clients first to introduce myself and explain the aim of the call then ask if they would like to chat with a student once a week. If they agree, I set them up with a buddy for their weekly call.
The ongoing project started in mid-March, and we have spoken to about 60 older people so far. Most live in their own homes, but we are also supporting one person living in a nursing home. Four other nursing homes have shown an interest in the initiative and I have been in contact with care at home agencies about the project.
‘One of the unexpected benefits is the sense of empowerment it has given the older people. They understand the collaborative nature of the project – as well as us supporting them, they are supporting us with our learning’
Alex Richardson, nursing student, Canterbury Christ Church University
The length of the phone call depends on the needs of the older person. Most calls are about 30 minutes but some last up to two hours. Some people may not have spoken to anyone for a while so we encourage them to take their time and talk about anything they like – from their current concerns about COVID-19 to their past life experiences.
We also ask about their day-to-day lives so we can check that they are eating enough, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep.
Setting up a project during a pandemic: where to start
- Stay focused These are difficult times, and it can be easy to lose focus with so much going on. Keep your objectives in mind, set your goals and plan what you need to do to achieve them
- Stay connected We have a WhatsApp group for our cohort which we use to keep in contact and bounce ideas off each other. It’s also important to talk to your lecturers who can offer valuable advice and guidance
- Keep a reflective journal Reflection has many positives, including maintaining your own mental health and well-being. Reflection can help you see what you did right and what you may do differently next time
- Believe in yourself With the support of my family, friends, fellow students and university, I have pushed myself further than I thought possible. Have faith in yourself and be proud of your achievements
- Be part of your community One positive from this pandemic is the sense of community it has fostered for many of us. If you can think of a way to help others, do it
The project has helped transform the older people's moods
Feedback from the older people has been positive. One woman said she really looks forward to her weekly calls as they help keep her focused, while another said that helping the student with her studies gives her purpose and makes her feel involved.
My mum has also noticed a difference in her clients, saying that the weekly phone calls have ‘completely transformed their moods’.
Second-year mental health nursing student Georgie Savage speaks to Jane (not her real name) once a week. ‘Jane wasn’t leaving her house much even before lockdown as she gets very anxious being outside,’ says Ms Savage. ‘After discussing this, she agreed to try and walk a small distance outside her house. She did it and said she felt great.’
Jane said: ‘I love talking to Georgie, she is such a wonderful girl and I think she is so brave working in hospitals. She has no idea how much I value and look forward to our conversations.’
Calls with older people also help nursing students develop their communication skills
As well as supporting older people, this project is helping us by allowing us to practice our communication skills, arguably one of the most important nursing skills. We are also meeting people we may never have come into contact with and gaining vital skills in areas such as assessing concerns, signposting to relevant services and time management and organisation.
As the project involves a lot of coordination, it has also been a great way for me to work on my leadership skills.
One of the unexpected benefits is the sense of empowerment it has given the older people. They understand the collaborative nature of the project – as well as us supporting them, they are supporting us with our learning.
The most important thing is to keep everyone talking.
Alex Richardson is a second-year mental health nursing student at Canterbury Christ Church University
Thanks to my fellow students who volunteered their time to this project: Georgie Savage, Ellie Scott, Grace Scott, Shari Dawkins, Shyline Mbeve and Izzy Kent
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