According to research by Loughborough University academic Dr Brett Smith, living in a care home has a devastating impact on the lives of people paralysed by spinal cord injury.
Dr Smith, from the University's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, found that lives are put at risk by unsuitable care and facilities, and by suicidal feelings due to poor quality of life. Dr Smith was commissioned by the spinal injury charity Aspire to examine the effect of the common practice of forcing people with spinal cord injury to live in care homes for the elderly.
An expert in disability, health and physical activity, Dr Smith said: "The findings of this study are hugely important. It is the first time that anyone has looked into the damage done by the common practice of housing spinal injured people in care homes. "This research has really opened my eyes and I hope it will start to make people sit up and take notice. The lack of accessible housing provision is essentially ruining lives."
Research findings detail the risks to physical health such as pressure sores, infections and even broken bones, whilst the psychological risks include chronic depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts. The consequences of housing a spinal injured person in a care home are so destructive that it is unacceptable for public policy to continue to allow this as an option.
Every eight hours someone is paralyzed by a spinal cord injury and told that they will never walk again. Twenty per cent of these people will be discharged from hospital into a care home, regardless of their age, because they do not have housing in the community that meets their new needs. The study by Dr Smith and his team involved extensive interviews with 20 spinal injured people who are living or who have lived in care homes. Research findings clearly show that care homes are completely inappropriate places to house spinal injured people, and yet some people remain in care homes for periods of up to three years or more.
People in this situation experience a diminished quality of life due to their lack of independence, damage to relationships, isolation and boredom. Furthermore, lack of specialist knowledge among care home staff and inadequate facilities mean that people's physical health needs are often not met, resulting in further injury, pain and illness.
A research participant said: "Staff tried transferring me with a slideboard, but they didn't do it properly. Bang. I ended on the floor, my arm broken. They mean well often, but they don't know how to look after people with a spinal injury. And this is just the half of it. I've even been given wrong medication. I could have died."
Another participant said: "All my independence has gone since living in here. This place has taken it away. My quality of life as a result has suffered immensely. I've no quality of life now, and feel like I'm not even a human being anymore."
Brian Carlin, Chief Executive of Aspire, said: "All too often, people with spinal cord injury find themselves discharged to somewhere totally unsuitable and, as this study confirms, care homes are often the very worst option for someone recovering from a traumatic spinal injury.
The Government is aiming to increase employment rates among disabled people, and most disabled people would like to be in work.However, research participants reported that care home staff are regularly not able to help them out of bed until midday, and in some cases people were left in bed all day if the home was short staffed. If the Government continues to allow people with spinal cord injury to be housed in care homes, they are removing their ability to gain employment.
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