My mother in law lives about ten minutes walk from us. She is 96, lives alone and has very poor mobility – ordinarily it takes the two of  just to help her out of the house. She has very little grasp of the reality of her life and is generally self possessed and content. Perhaps because of this, Irene, of all the people I know, seems to have been the least adversely affected by covid-19.

Her usual support system includes five visits a day from carers who see to all her meals and personal care as well as considerable assistance from family. The formal care has carried on throughout the lock down apart from on two occasions near the start of the epidemic, when, by prior agreement, my wife stood in at short notice for two evening visits. This was clearly against the national lock down advice but my wife felt she had no choice but to help out in what was a very difficult period for the care agency.

At around the same time the home hairdresser, who provides one of the few special moments in Irene’s normal everyday life, felt obliged to suspend her visits. Similarly, the cleaning service was withdrawn by another agency as they felt unable to operate safely in the circumstances. Concerned by the effect these changes would have on her mother’s quality of life and wellbeing, my wife decided that we would have to step in again.

Consequently, as well as seeing to our own shopping and domestic routines, I now find myself vacuuming her floors every fortnight while my wife does other cleaning jobs in the house. On alternate weeks she washes Irene’s hair and  carries out all the other associated maintenance operations. In addition, we have continued with a number of other regular visits relating to comfort and safety that fall outside others’ responsibilities. In the last few weeks, for instance, we’ve made three calls, one early morning and another late evening, to sort out a perennial problem with the boiler. We both wear gloves on all these occasions and I maintain as much social distance as I can; but again we are clearly in contravention of official guidance and regulations. Nevertheless, my wife believes that this level of stimulation and continuity is vital in preserving Irene’s independence and safety.

Terry, Older people’s Parliament