First, let me say that I am not an expert in choosing a care home for a loved one with dementia, as it is not something I have had to do myself.
However, what I do is train volunteers to spend time and provide meaningful companionship to care home residents. I volunteer in a care home myself visiting a lady with quite advanced dementia who has no other friends or relatives who visit. I also trained as a nurse many years ago and I worked as a staff nurse in a care home for a short time so I have experienced care homes from different perspectives.
It is difficult decision to choose to move a loved one into a care home, with so much emotion and potential anxiety attached to it. But, it’s not a bad decision, or a sign of failure.
Moving into a care home can be the best option, the right option, for your loved one. And there are some wonderful care homes - we get such a distorted picture painted by the media.
It’s not all bad, terrible, terrible! In fact it’s more good, good and really good! The media chooses to put a magnifying glass on the bad and terrible and that can give us a distorted perspective on the whole sector.
After doing some research into the role of volunteers in care homes and interviewing care home residents, this is what one said: “Well actually I think it’s good if volunteers come in and see what happens in care homes, because I think it’s a good thing if they carry out the message that, “Don’t worry if you have to go into one, it’s a good place to be….I’m glad I came.”
But the challenge remains to find the right care home for your loved ones if and when that becomes the best option for them. There are lots of resources online from Age UK and the Alzheimers Society giving advice and information about what to look for.
Here's 5 things that I think are important for you to consider, using the acronym SEEEE to make it easy for you to remember.
In my mind this is the most important indicator about how good the care home is. It tells you a lots. Is there a high turn over of staff? If there is then you need to ask yourself why? In a good care home the staff tend to stay.
Happy staff = happy care.
If the staff are stressed out, and really busy that may have knock on implications for the quality of care your loved one receives. If staff are unhappy they will leave, the manager will struggle to keep recruiting and there will be lots of agency staff. Temporary agency staff won’t know residents personally, and it makes it much more difficult to offer person centred care if you don’t know the person.
which brings me on to my second point - ETHOS. What is the ethos of the home? Do they follow the principles of person centred care - which focuses on the individual, who they are, their life story - rather than on the illness, or their physical care needs. Not just “You are someone I need to get up, dressed and fed this morning”.
Do they treat individuals with respect and dignity? Do they provide meaningful activities for residents to be involved in? Is there a sense of community?
Is the environment comfortable and homely? Smart, hotel like care homes can look impressive, but this is a place where your loved one is going to live; this is HOME. This was highlighted to me when I chatted to a resident, who lives in a small, family run care home.
This particular care home looks a bit dated, not like a newly refurbished plush and roomy care home I also visited with this resident on another occasion. I was slightly concerned she might get care home envy, so was very surprised when afterwards she said to me, “Oh, I didn’t like that care home at all!” And she went on to describe how she felt it was all too hotel like and not homely at all!
I am sure there will be others who would love the hotel like atmosphere and not like the very homely care home - it’s all about finding out what is right for each individual.
The important questions to ask are - are there things around to stimulate residents interests - pictures, objects on the tables, opportunities to get involved in household tasks like gardening, dusting, folding - if these are things that residents find meaningful. Also, is there access to the outdoors, even if residents rooms are not on the ground floor.
4. EASY TRANSPORT LINKS OR PARKING
If you are going to be visiting regularly you want to be able to get there easily - either in a car or on public transport and be able to park if you are driving.
5. END OF LIFE CARE
It might seem a bit strange to be thinking about this before your loved one even moves into a care home, but it’s so important, especially for people with dementia.
The care home is likely to be the last residence of your loved one and you want to feel confident that it is a place where they will have quality of life to the end of life. Now I have to disclose a vested interest here - end of life care for people with dementia is a particular passion of mine and it’s probably a whole other blog. But you want to ask questions about this.
What provision is made for residents when they can no longer participate in the programme of activities offered by the care home? Do they have a programme of sensory activities for people in the last stages of dementia? This is quite new and innovative - but if a care home do provide this you know they are forward thinking and really focused on good end of life care.
There is unlikely to be such thing as a perfect care home - and what is perfect for one person won’t be perfect for someone else, as every individual is different. But hopefully that gives you a taster of the sort of things to look out for and ask when you visit and chat with the managers.
Author - Tina English (Director - Embracing Age)
One local church on the outskirts of London has found a winning formula in providing a safe and welcoming place for older people to come along and meet up with other local residents.
Taking her experience of helping run a parent and toddler group Pippa, a local mum, turned her attention to serving older people in the local community. An outreach was set up to serve the elderly in their community and to help reduce the isolation and loneliness faced by many. Aptly named Connections, it aims to connect people to God and with each other.
Before their Tuesday meetings, a team of volunteers comes in to set up the church cafe style and to prepare for the over 100 guests that they have each week.
Guests are offered coffee and homemade cakes, with flowers on the tables, which can include optional craft activities, mini hand massages, gentle exercises, jigsaws, shared hobbies and special interest tables put together by local guests, which allows guests to chat whilst they are doing something.
Pippa Cramer, Pastoral Care and Seniors Co-ordinator at HTC says “It has been a privilege to see how Connections has grown – for many, who are lonely and isolated, it’s the highlight of their week, and it’s so wonderful to see Connections as a bridge into church – many of the new faces we have at church come from Connections.”
Connections offers a safe place to connect with others and build friendships in a safe environment. They also welcome carers, who can bring along the person that they are caring for, allowing them both the opportunity to get out of the house once a week.
For their regulars, who are often living with ill health, dementia or bereavement, the opportunity to connect once a week, to sit, listen and talk, is all they need.
Pippa emphasizes that they want their guests to “relax and feel at ease” and believes that the love and care shown by the team is infectious. “It’s the care and love received that impacts people”. It’s not just the guests who benefit, the volunteers who take part also love being part of the team.
The church aims to help guests to experience the love of God through the friendships they build at Connections. During the morning, there’s a light touch ‘’thought for the day’ shared by one of the leaders and there always volunteers for guests to talk to and pray with.
Pippa says that she believes it’s their “warm welcome, ability to listen, generosity and prayer” , and the caring team of volunteers, that have made Connections such a success.
The culture of love in the Connections community has spread outside of a Tuesday morning, with guests and volunteers phoning each other for a chat, guests hosting coffee mornings and helping each other with shopping.
One of the surprising things about the project, is that it sees a large number of men attending. Pippa says that she believes that it helps that some of the team are men who are particularly good at getting alongside the older gentlemen, but also many of the activities aim to appeal to men, particularly the special interest tables.
The project has seen such success that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed a desire to see the Connections model of reaching the elderly replicated across other churches.
It’s inspiring to see a church meeting real needs of older people in their community, with genuine love and compassion. We hope to see many more Connections projects springing up across the country!
To find out more about Connections, contact Pippa Cramer, Pastoral Care & Senior’s Co-ordinator at Holy Trinity Claygate, at email@example.com
We're part of Christians Together Against Loneliness, a coalition of faith-based charities to tackle isolation amongst older people.
While it's long been the churches practice to share meals, community meals have been growing in popularity in recent years.
Eating together provides an opportunity for social interaction and building friendships. That's one of the reasons we're launching "Make A Meal Of It", to encourage local churches to run a community meal to reach older people in their community.
With a growing elderly population and 12% of people aged 65 and over saying that they "feel cut off from society", there's never been a better time for churches to find creative ways to reach out to older people, who are often underrepresented in local churches.
Grab the PDF for Make A Meal Of It to see if this might be a good fit for you and your church.
Our Care Home Friends project encourages churches to adopt a local care home and offer trained volunteers to spend time and build friendships with residents.
To work towards our vision of having every care home adopted by a local church, we need more people to hear about Care Home Friends. We’ve have had some good publicity in the past, including a great article in the Times newspaper last summer. Yet, there’s more to be done to get the word out about the project.
We know that there are individuals and churches out there who, once they hear about Care Home Friends and how it can improve the lives of individual care home residents, will love to jump on board and get a project going.
We’re keen to get the word out about how easy for a church it is to set up a project, whatever their size or denomination. To help achieve that and to reach a wider audience who haven’t already heard of our Care Home Friends project, we’ve been developing our social media presence.
Jen Carter, our National Co-ordinator, has been working behind the scenes to update the Care Home Friends website, including a ‘get involved’ page for individuals and churches who want to find out more about starting a project.
On a sunny day in April, Tina and Jen had some fun setting up the video equipment and filming footage for a couple of videos about the project. The first two-minute video explains a bit about how simple it is to set up a project in a local church. We plan to create more videos, as people seem love to learning by watching videos on their phone or other mobile device, so watch this space!
If you’d like to see what happening with Care Home Friends or to help us share to a wider audience, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.
Introducing our new National Co-ordinator Jen Carter, who joined us in March 2018!
Jen's role is to support churches who are exploring whether setting up a Care Home Friends in their village, town or City is right for them. She also supports projects which are already up and running.
This photo is of Jen and her dad (who sadly passed away last year), taking one of their regular walks to the river from the nursing home where he was a resident.
Jen says "It was so hard for dad, even though mum visited him every day and I visited 2-3 times each week, each day seemed so long for him. His failing memory made it harder for him, as he couldn't always remember that mum had already visited that day, so despite regular visits from family, he often felt lonely.
This is one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about Care Home Friends, as it so positively impacts individuals, giving them someone to talk to, and letting them know that they still matter and have a value."
Jen comes from a background of having worked with churches, charities and volunteers for over 10 years, and we're excited to have her on board!
You can now see where we already have Care Home Friends projects, using this interactive map:
We are delighted to welcome Lady Sally Grylls as an ambassador for our work. Sally lives on the Isle of Wight and is an inspiring lady with a quiet faith, who seeks to make a difference in the lives of people living with dementia. You can read an interview with her here.
What happens when someone we love deteriorates with age, as can happen with dementia?
This Facebook post from John Noble, who with his wife Christine, have been influential in church leadership over many years shares about John & Christine's journey with dementia. John has kindly given us permission to reproduce his post here.
"It is almost one year since the love of my life was taken into care. Initially she was to go into the home for two weeks in an attempt to balance her medication as various other efforts had failed to keep her on an even keel. I was not permitted to see her for one week which was like being assigned to seven days of mental torture. I spent the week in tears.
When I finally got to see Christine and talk to the nurse who ran the home, she said that she hadn’t realised how advanced and aggressive Christine’s dementia was and she didn’t know how we had coped. Her conclusion was that it was time for Christine to be taken into permanent care.
At that moment I discovered that incompatible emotions such as relief and agony can exist side by side but not without creating turmoil and confusion. Family and the many encouragements and prayers of friends have helped me to adjust to my new situation. However, in spite of the difficulty of caring for Christine, there was a gaping hole in my life.
Months on and a various combinations of drugs tested, nothing seemed to have had the desired effect of keeping Christine calm and at peace. True she had some better days but in reality she spent a great deal of time crying.
This behaviour started while she was at home. I put it down to the multiple TV advertisements which appear in the channels most likely to be watched by older people. Pictures of sick and dying children and heart wrenching appeals for donations every fifteen minutes whilst watching your favourite episode of Poirot, is not a helpful way to relax.
It seemed that these images conjured up visions of suffering children such as Christine had often seen as she sought to minister in deprived areas of the world. Of course, I quickly learned to prerecord the programmes and delete the adverts but those images appeared to remain embedded somewhere deep within.
So it was that some days ago a new drug in a fairly high dosage was tried. When I went in at my usual time to give Christine her supper she was out for the count which is most unusual as she is mostly on the move, shuffling around to see what is going on. Her head was slumped forward and it took me a good ten to fifteen minutes to wake her. Finally, when I did arouse her she could barely walk an inch at a time, staring down at the floor as I helped her along. Once again I was shattered!
This went on for a few days and each visit I struggled to hold back the tears until I left to come home in the car.
Then one of the nurses who saw my distress tried to comfort me, “it’s a question of which is best,” she said, “do you want Christine as a zombie or do you want her crying most of the time?”
This was not a choice I was anxious to make and after a couple of the staff helped me settle Christine into a chair, my lovely zombie began to cry anyway. This was the first time I broke down in front of the staff. I sobbed out my thanks for their help and something about not coping and then hurried out to the sanctuary of my car.
The next day at the home I was greeted with concerned looks and while I helped Christine with her supper the nurse said that they were going to halve the dosage of medication to see if that made a difference. Thank God it did! And, hallelujah, we’re on to more smiles and fewer tears! On a recent visit Christine actually reached out and pulled me close and whispered quite coherently, “I love you,” and gave me a full on, sloppy, kiss! Wow, that was special!
My experiences over these last few years, and particularly these months since Christine went into care, have given me huge appreciation for the myriads of people who are enduring the kind of pain we are suffering and sometimes much, much worse. How many of them manage without family help and many more not knowing the blessing of being in touch with Jesus, I shall never know.
I am also incredibly impressed by the staff who work in the home. Most of them are immigrants as, it seems, most of us Brits don’t want to work in such demanding jobs. The long hours, low pay and caring for such needy people, many of whom are almost totally incapacitated, disturbed and sometimes quite aggressive, is tiring work. Yet they are always ready with a welcome and a smile and more often than not, even when they’re busy, tea and biscuits.
On top of all their regular tasks, washing, dressing, feeding, distributing medication, toilet trips and watching out for those in danger of falling or doing themselves some damage, they do try to interact with the residents on a personal basis as much as possible. However, the reality is they just don’t have the time to engage with them as they would like.
All this has led me to ask myself two questions; what could be done to improve life for those caring for loved ones at home? And, how could the amazing commitment of the staff working in care homes be supplemented to provide one to one engagement on a regular basis for residents who need that kind of attention?
I found myself wishing I was younger and had the time and resources to start a charity to train an army of retired volunteers. These, perhaps, older people who are often overlooked and undervalued themselves, could get alongside lonely, pressurised carers in their homes and also make regular visits to nursing homes to stand with staff, lightening the load and making life a little brighter for some residents who need more interaction or have no family to visit them.
In recent years Christians have risen to many of the challenges which have surfaced in our broken society. And, far from having withdrawn from the ‘world’ because we are not ‘of it’, we are now fully engaged in positive action without becoming involved in the ‘world system’ which is what scripture warns us against. Street pastors, prison visiting, healing on the streets, youth mentoring, food banks are just a few of the fantastic initiatives which are making a tremendous difference but surely this is just the beginning and there is much, much more that we can do.
My belief is that there is some saint out there with the gifts and abilities required to mobilise an army to serve in this area of growing concern. Maybe they are just crying out to the Lord to open a door of opportunity so that they can find their place in the heart of what God is doing to turn this nation around and back to its Christian roots.
So, maybe you could join me in praying that the Holy Spirit will connect those with the skills to those with the resources. In this way the many, who would love to serve in this needy area, can be empowered to get on and invade our care homes with the presence and the love of Jesus!"
Thank you John for sharing your story.
Care Home Friends were joint winners of the Cinnamon Network Project Lab Competition in 2016. It's a big like Dragons Den, only for charities!
You can find out more about it here ...
We were delighted to be the runner up in Premier Radio's Love Britain and Ireland Awards in the category for older people.
On 20th September 2017, our Director, Tina English was presented with the award by comedian Tim Vine and Baroness Parminter.