A guest blog from John Noble, whose wife Christine is living in a care home with dementia.
Suddenly, amidst all the news and confusion about the Corona virus and the fear and suffering which some people are experiencing, the situation becomes very personal.
As my daughter, Sharon, and I were giving Christine her supper one evening around three weeks ago, one of the nurses sat down with us and gave us the news - no more visits until further notice! We were shocked! There was no prior warning, no time to take it in, just the stark reality that we would not see our darling until further notice!
I could see the wheels in Sharon's brain turning as I struggled to take it in. She immediately went to the office to see if she could negotiate but how could they give us special dispensation when some others also visit their loved ones every day as we do? I had just missed one day due to traffic in in 3 and a half years.
So after being refused special privilege which we expected, Sharon runs back to the office with plan B forming in her mind. "Can we borrow mum's special bed and take her home?" she asked, "We can hire a hoist and....." I held back the tears and explained that I could not let her do that. The cost to her health and well-being and that of her husband in all that would be required day and night would be just too great and, anyway, how would Christine cope being out of the environment which she has known for the past three and a half years. On top of that, if we vacated her room there would be no way we would get it back with so many waiting for a place.
As it was time to leave we took her into the conservatory where it is quiet and where we wouldn't be interrupted to give her a last walk and sing hymns with her as we did every day. She was up and rearing to go, we took a few steps and Sharon began to sing, "Amazing grace how sweet the sound..." I tried to join in but could not hold back the tears any longer. Through the tears and sobs I went on to explain to Christine that we wouldn't be in to see her for a while and that we loved her very much. She looked at me with a quizzical, slightly confused, look but I am sure she did not have a clue what I was talking about. Mind you, she did give me two full on kisses which is unusual when we're leaving, she willingly kisses when we arrive but is rather reluctant when she sees we are about to go.
As I drove home, straining to see through the mists of my tears, the reality of the suffering that so many are, and will be, going through as a result of this most recent interruption to our normal lives, hit me. Apart from fear of the sickness itself and how to care for sick loved ones or being unable to visit, there will be all kinds of sad and tragic outcomes.
So, three weeks on how have I coped and what advice can I give that might help others who are going through similar and even much worse situations? Well, I am no expert in all this and I am learning to trust God every step of the way. I make no apology for saying that my Christian faith in the love and goodness of God shown to me and dear Christine over the years has been a mainstay of our ability to cope.
And in that connection I have to say that the freedom to express your grief and pour out your pain is incredibly important. If you don't share my faith where you are assured that the Lord can bear your tears and questions, then do you have a close friend or relative who can cope with you sharing what, some call, an 'unmourned bereavement'? Since Christine's diagnosis, apart from the every day feelings of sadness, I have, on at least five occasions, felt I have been through what can best be described as a bereavement with no place to put it to bury it. The diagnosis itself was tough to hear; the day that I had to tell her she could not drive any more was devastating and she couldn't understand why and, worst of all, the day that she was taken into care were all times of deep distress and grief.
I am sure that many of you reading this will have found your way to cope, as we are all different and our circumstances are by no means the same. So I don't see my thoughts as being definitive, but they may just help someone somewhere, which takes me to my second point. In the midst of your pain try to think of others who are suffering and remember you are in a special place to give encouragement and advice as you are able to empathise in a way others can not.
For me, I did this by starting a face book page as a dedication to Christine and that was after I had vowed I would never join the fb club. It did not appeal to me at all and also I am living proof that dinosaurs exist as I don't have a technical bone in my body. So I sought out help from Sharon and as a result I have reached 1000's of people to give encouragement by sharing our story and the highs and lows of dealing with this terrible disease.
Of course, I am not suggesting that you have to reach thousands but helping one broke-hearted person is worth all the effort and there is a benefit - it is therapeutic for you. In blessing someone in pain you get blessed too and you find that you are in a new and different kind of family too, linked by your common experiences and needs. The story of your journey is important and might be just what some one in distress needs to hear!
Sharing your experience can be really helpful but alongside sharing we must also be careful listeners. Some of us are great talkers, especially people like me in Christian ministry. We like to hear the sound of our own voice but important though sharing is, listening at times can be even more vital in helping to alleviate someone's else's pain. And you may be surprised how simply listening, even when you don't have answers, can help and give you the satisfaction to see that person leave with hope because they found a shoulder to cry on.
Other things that have been helpful for me have, for example, been finding the inner strength and determination not to be a couch potato or to sit around feeling sorry for myself all day. Life goes on and has to be lived so there comes a moment when we have to pick ourselves up and busy ourselves with things that have to be done. Often I have started a job whilst still shedding tears and found that in a short time the tears have dried up as I focus on the work in hand. The pain does not totally disappear, how could it when the situation remains the same, but we can learn how to dull the pain so that it does not dominate our every living moment.
Having a routine is also extremely helpful and keeps you functioning in a measure of normality. A little exercise can really help you to cast off some of the gloom that might hang over you; make sure that you don't neglect the every day things like taking a shower or putting on some decent clothes and try to eat things which will help you to feel healthy as opposed to comfort eating that will only add to your woes.
When all the jobs that are necessary for life to go on are done for the day then, maybe during this lock down, you will recall some of those things that you have promised yourself that one day I'll get around to that. A hobby, a sewing project, turning out the cupboard under the stairs or re-jigging that flower bed in the garden that has got out of hand or planting tomato seeds in the greenhouse!. The problem may be that we feel guilty if we are doing something which might look as if we are getting some pleasure from it when our loved one is suffering and we can't be there. Please reject such a thought, for guilt has never ever helped the human condition and it won't help you now. Taking pleasure in some activity is not a sin and if your loved one was able to speak to you, they would surely encourage you in that!
Well, these are some of my thoughts and I hope they are constructive and helpful and perhaps they will inspire you to think of how you have been helped to walk through your pain to carry on with life that is there to be lived. Then when the time comes for you to get back to seeing your loved one, you will be in a fit state to be the best that you can be for them once again. May God bless you and give you the peace that comes from knowing that Jesus walks with you every step of the way.
Most care homes have now restricted visitors in order to protect their residents from the virus. We have paused the replication of our Care Home Friend projects and are looking at how we can most effectively support care homes during this unprecendented season. It is a particularly challenging time for staff and residents, as an outbreak of the virus at a care home could be devastating. How can you support them?
It's a difficult question to answer, as the situation seems to be changing daily, but here are some general ideas that should be adapted to your local situation and read in the light of the most up to date government advice, which can be found here.
1. Give your care home a call and ask them what their needs are at this time and if there is any particular support they need. They may be so busy dealing with the urgent that they are unable to think of anything - let them know that they can contact you if they think of anything later on.
2. Show care home staff how much we appreciate all they are doing to look after and protect our vulnerable older people during this time of crisis. Send them a thank you card and some chocolates.
3. In our area we are hoping to get some funding to buy android tablets to give to the care homes that staff can use to help residents have video chats with their loved ones. Residents with capacity can also use them to play online games like Words with Friends and chess, that connect them to the outside world.
4. If you have a background in care, perhaps you could offer to go on a reserve list of bank staff that care home managers can call on should they experience a shortage.
5. If you have children at home, perhaps they could write letters or draw pictures that could be sent to the care homes to cheer the staff and residents.
Can you think of other ideas? Please feel free to add them to them in the comments section below.
Showcasing our Intergenerational Drama Project
We were thrilled to see the fruits of our intergenerational drama project last week when the Year 8 pupils showcased the final production to residents and their families at a local care home. The project involved Wendy (our Volunteer Coordinator, who is also a writer and actor) working with students from a local school, who spent time getting to know some care home residents, collecting stories from their lives, and turning these stories into a musical production.
The production, “Over The Rainbow”, was largely set around the 1940s and included favourite music from the era, which had several of the residents humming along and dancing in their chairs, which was a real delight to see. One resident said “I enjoyed it thoroughly. It brought back lots of memories, good and bad. But it was wonderful.”
Another resident said “The girls had thought about what they were doing and they’d obviously taken the bits that they had been told by the people they’d visited over time; it was all in there and they put it together well. I enjoyed it and I think that’s the most important thing; and I saw everyone else enjoyed it too.”
The students also told us they gained a lot from the project - from growing their confidence and teamwork skills, to changing their views about older people and their perspective of life in general. One pupil said “we’ve got so much to learn from care home residents” and this was a common theme amongst the pupils. One student spoke of a gentleman who had lost both of his legs in WWII and had gone onto become a successful actor, “it was amazing to see someone who had been through so much in their youth to be telling these stories and be so happy today.”
The school’s Head of Drama said the pupils had “gained confidence, empathy for the elderly and collaborative skills in rehearsing. The project was a great way for the students to become involved in a local community on our doorstep.”
Wendy, who led the project at Embracing Age says “The grant from Culture Seeds allowed us to create a beautiful space, that built a lasting connection between a group of young people and elderly residents in a care home. We witnessed the joy and delight from the elderly residents, their feeling of value sharing their stories. We watched the girls’ excitement and confidence grow listening to these stories, and making them into a play. It was a truly magical experience.”
You can watch highlights of the performance and interviews with some of the residents and pupils below.
A huge thank you to the Mayor of London’s Culture Seed Programme for funding this project, and to the school and the care home for working with us. If you would be interested in exploring an intergenerational project with us, please contact us here.
Come along and say hello to us at the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Park Racecourse, Tuesday 15 - Thursday 17 October. A fantastic opportunity to find out more about what we do and how you can get involved with Care Home Friends.
You can get a free ticket via our link: https://eventdata.uk/Forms/Form.aspx?FormRef=CREA9Visitor&FormMode=COMP&TrackingCode=CHF19
What is the Christian Resources Exhibition?
The CRE offers fresh ideas, products and suppliers to ordained clergy, lay leaders and anyone who cares about the future of their local church. Find everything you need for your church – all in one place.
Tuesday 15 October 2019 – 10am-5pm
Wednesday 16 October 2019 – 10am-5pm
Thursday 17 October 2019 – 10am-4.30pm
Just 15 miles from central London, Sandown Park is easily accessible by rail (25 minutes from London Waterloo to Esher) and road (M25 and A3). Parking is free for exhibitors and visitors. A courtesy bus will be available between Esher railway station and Sandown Park racecourse, during the opening times.
Faith Action, as the Secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society have recently written a report on how faith based organisations are tackling loneliness. We provided a case study about Care Home Friends. The report can be downloaded here.
Tina was recently interviewed for a podcast for Together with God, talking about the importance of valuing older people within the church and society, helping different generations relate to one another, and how Christian families and churches can better support older people. Click here to listen
I was sitting in a restaurant, over 20 years ago, on a date with my hubby, when a group of about a dozen people came in and sat on the tables opposite us. I was fascinated by them, as they were such a mixed bunch – different nationalities, cultures and ages, all having a really great time together. I wondered what common interest had brought this disparate group together and I said to my husband, “I bet they’re Christians!” And they were.
There is something powerfully distinct about togetherness. Diversity in unity. I was reminded of this restaurant scene recently when considering the question, “What does a church community look like that genuinely loves and appreciates the uniqueness and contribution of all the different generations within it?
We can appreciate this diversity in unity when the apostle Paul speaks of the church as a body – with each member playing a unique role and every part being needed for us to function properly. But this analogy has limitations for an intergenerational perspective – the parts of my body are a similar age!
I think the best example of what it looks like to be a church that values and loves across the generations is family – the most natural multi-generational community on earth! We all know there’s no such thing as a perfect family, but let’s just imagine for a minute how an ideal family might function:
How can each of us encourage this sort of expression of family in the life of the church?
It can be hard to visit someone when it seems like they are slipping further away into their dementia, or losing their ability to communicate verbally. When it feels like you’re not making a difference and your visits aren’t remembered it’s understandable to begin to wonder if it’s even worth visiting at all. It is! Though people living with dementia may soon forget the details of your visit, they will be left with the emotional memory for far longer. The feeling of being loved, cared for, happy.
So how do we try and make our visits those which leave the person feeling loved, cared for and happy? How do we enable someone living with advanced dementia to enjoy the moment? Here are my top tips:
What were the interests and hobbies of the person? Did they like particular music, or art? What smells, tastes, sounds, touch and visual stimulation will bring enjoyment to them? Even people with very advanced dementia can experience enjoyment through the senses and it can create connections.
Sound - favourite music, singing, favourite TV/radio theme tunes. Poetry - old familiar poetry like The Owl and the Pussy Cat. The lady I visit loves Shakespeare’s sonnets. She can’t remember what she was doing half an hour ago but she can join in when I’m reading his sonnets to her. Perhaps it might be favourite verses from the Bible or the Lord's Prayer that brings them comfort and connection, or old hymns and sunday school songs.
Vision - photos of family, old holiday snaps, pictures of anything that the person with dementia would find stimulating. I visited a lady once who had very advanced dementia and it was impossible to hold a coherent conversation with her. But she mentioned to me that she liked a group of artist called the “Canadian Five”. With the help of google I printed off some paintings which I took the following week. We were able to have an amazing conversation as she talked about these pictures.
Smell - lavendar, rosemary, favourite perfumes or aftershaves. Take the person you are visiting for a walk in the care home garden - admire the sights and interact with the smells, especially if there are herbs growing in the garden.
Touch - the importance of caring touch can not be over estimated. You can learn to do a simple hand massage technique that can really bring connection between you are your loved one. Here’s a link.
There are so many other things to touch and feel. I once visited a lady who was bed bound with very advanced dementia and had visual impairment. I learned she used to be a seamstress and made beautiful wedding dresses, so I got some offcuts from our local bridal shop and she would spend ages touching and caressing them. (See photo) And how about bubble wrap? Who doesn’t enjoy a good pop of the bubbles?
Talking of bubbles - they can be a lot of fun - both blowing them and popping them. I spent time with a lady in a sensory session. She wasn’t interacting at all, just watching. She couldn’t even have a hand massage due to a condition of her hands. But when we started blowing bubbles and we put the bubble wand to her lips she blew and created her own bubbles. It was so special.
I’ve mentioned going outside but it’s worth repeating. Many people with dementia are living in a locked unit for the safety of residents. To be able to go outside can be so liberating - the fresh air, the flowers, the birds, the trees.
Art - painting, drawing and colouring. These are great in themselves and particularly good for people who have lost the ability to communicate verbally. I recently learned that the lady I visit used to draw horses so now each week I take in a sketch book and pencils for her to have a go.
A manicure - who doesn’t love a bit of pampering? A manicure isn’t just for ladies either - there are men who liked to be well groomed too. And combine it with a gentle hand massage for the ultimate enjoyment.
I have a bag now which I take to the care home every week. It has a basic manicure kit, a portable speaker, hand cream, a sketch book, photos, pictures and music on my phone. I can then offer different activities depending on the mood and fancy of the lady I visit. There are some weeks it doesn’t go that well, if she is having a particularly bad day, but more often than not it has enabled me to bring her a little enjoyment. Although I have been visiting for nearly two years I still have to introduce myself every week and I know she has no memory of my previous visit. And yet, I do sense that she knows me. At the very least she associates me with good feelings, and that for me, makes all worth while.
Our population is ageing, fast.
It's a hidden time bomb that no-one in the church is talking about.
In the last 60 years, the number of people aged over 65 has doubled, and the number of people over the age of 85 has tripled.
Kofi Annan, former president of the United Nations, described it as “a revolution that extends well beyond demographics, with major economic, social, cultural, psychological and spiritual implications”.
An Ageing Population
The proportion of older people in the UK is forecast to dramatically increase over the next two decades.
Those aged 85 and over, are the fastest growing age group in the UK. It’s predicted that 20% people currently in the UK will live to see their centenary (DWP, 2011).
Those over 85 are more likely to experience frailty, ill health and dependence, with 75% of over 85’s suffering from limiting long-standing illnesses.
Whilst the numbers of those in the third age (65-74) is predicted to stay relatively static over the next 12 years, those in the fourth age (75-84) is forecast to grow by 25%, and those aged over 85 by 50%.
Due to the drop in the numbers of young people attending, the church is ageing more acutely than society (Brierley, 2015).
That's a massive change.
In past generations, it has been the church that has led the way on social reform. Think of Cadbury and William Wilberforce who were well ahead of their time.
The church model we now live with was established decades ago. Our outreach programs are often designed for a population that comprised mainly of families with young children or teenagers.
With a changing population, our church models have failed to change and grow with them.
Many churches have youth and children’s workers, but few have anyone assigned to older people, let alone a strategy for mission and discipleship of their older community.
A cursory glance at church movements and websites, shows a glaring hole in any provision for those age 65 and over.
We believe that, as it has through history, the church should be taking the lead on the issue of a changing world around us. It should be the church who seeks to bridge the growing generational divide.
The ageism that is so prevalent in society can so easily spill over in to the church. Yet, the church should be leading the way in expressing the worth, dignity and value of the older generations to us as a society.
Jesus told His followers that the world would know us by the love that we have for one another.
The hallmark of the church should be diversity in unity. 'For there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Gal 3:28)
There’s a saying that “The young people are the church of tomorrow”. The church needs to stop seeing older people as the church of yesterday and instead show the world that we are all the church of today.
It's time for the church to change the way we view and value older people, both in our churches and our communities.
The church has the chance to be a trailblazer, reaching out to and serving the growing population of older people.
We have the chance to develop and establish ministries and programmes for the retired and the elderly.
We stand on the brink of massive social change. The church has an incredible opportunity to shine the light of the gospel as role models of intergenerational connectedness, enriching the lives of young and old alike.
Will you be part of this revolution?
Where Can I Get Started?
When meeting someone new, it's easy to be worried about running out of things to say.
Talking to older people, especially those living with memory loss, comes with it's own challenges. Asking questions, which require a factual response, can be difficult for the person, if they can't remember.
For example, asking their age, how many children they have or what they had for dinner, might be questions they're unable to answer.
Often it's the recent memories that older people are unable to access, yet they can clearly recall things that happened decades before.
The good news is that there are plenty of questions that you can ask an older person that don't rely on their recent memories, but refer to some of their older memories.
Here's some ideas of open-ended questions that can help to break the ice:
This type of question allows an older person to share some of their memories with you, without relying on specific memories they may be unable to access right now.
Why not try using one or more of these open-ended questions next time you're chatting to someone?