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A Year On: The Impact of Covid-19 on People with Learning Disabilities

Busi Mudimbu

The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but none more so than a group of people who have more challenges than most at the best of times: those individuals with learning disabilities.

This week is Learning Disability Week (#LDWeek2021) and Sibusio (Busi) Mudimbu, Service Manager at Old Leigh House in Essex, reflects on how the pandemic has impacted the lives of residents and celebrates the team spirit that has helped to keep them occupied, supported and well cared for throughout.

I work at Old Leigh House, a residential service in a seaside town in Essex which supports men living with a learning disability and complex needs, and the pandemic instantly changed many of our everyday routines. Adjusting to a new routine is stressful for everyone, but especially for people with learning disabilities who can find it hard to handle. A number of research and reports have highlighted that this impact was significant for people with learning disabilities or autism.

During the pandemic, I have supported our residents to live their lives as normal as possible and relieved any anxieties that may occur.

Individuals with learning disabilities may have more difficulty in understanding or implementing important public health information that can help them stay healthy and safe. We take great care to explain what is happening in a way that is simple to understand, while ensuring that the residents are well informed and follow Government guidelines.

Our Speech and Language Therapists helped us by producing easy read material so that the residents who needed communication support could better understand what was happening in a world affected by the pandemic.

Not every day has been the same, some have been challenging as some residents with regular contact with their families obviously missed their loved ones. Many normal daily activities such as home visits, shopping, going to cinema, bowling, theatres, church and college also stopped during the lockdown, which was especially hard for them.

To ease any anxieties, I made sure that the residents had regular contact with their advocates, social workers, families and friends via Zoom, Skype and telephone. That meant families continued to be a significant part of our residents’ lives. I’m a firm believer in working in partnership with families and that it has a significant benefit on the residents’ mental health and overall engagement with their support plans. Even during lockdown, families were encouraged to drop off snacks at the door so there was not a complete breakdown of contact.

Our residents have regular empowerment meetings and 1:1 nursing sessions where they can discuss how they feel about the pandemic. When it comes to looking after service users with learning disabilities, it is crucial to understand them as an individual. It is not one size fits for all and everyone has their own presentation and understanding. Some of the service users also have physical health needs, as well as challenging behaviours and a history of offending. It is all about listening to the service user and understanding what they need and what support they require.

The past 12 months have been extremely difficult for the staff too. There has been a huge turnaround from a normal working environment to being extra cautious about infection control and wearing the correct PPE. We followed all the infection control procedures and kept all staff members updated about the latest local authority information as well as sharing information from Cygnet Health Care. I’m very proud to say that we pulled together very well, and now that the restrictions are lifting, there is great optimism about the future.

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