Embracing Age Isle of Wight recently held a Cheese & Wine party, with auction and raffle - a fantastic fun day enjoying the island's best sunshine in a beautiful garden setting.
We are delighted to announce that the event raised about £2,000 - an amazing figure, which will make a huge difference to supporting projects that bring so much joy and sense of connection to older care home residents.
Huge thanks to:
Embracing Age Isle of Wight launched during the pandemic so it is truly wonderful to see supporters coming together in person for such an enjoyable day.
Well done to all involved and thank you to everyone that came!
To find out how you could get involved with Embracing Age Isle of Wight's work, please see here or contact Rebecca.
5/7/2022 0 Comments
"OF ALL the people affected by the events of the past two years, care-home residents have, arguably, suffered more than most."
Julie McKee has published an excellent article in the Church Times on care homes being on the "front line" and the deep need for churches to come alongside their local care homes. The article features a range of suggestions to begin / resume that ministry and shines a spotlight on the work of Embracing Age and the ways we can equip churches in this ministry - not just for leading services but also coming alongside staff and residents in companionship and helping them feel linked to their local community.
You can read the full article here.
If you’d like to explore ideas for your church to come alongside care home staff and residents, please see our resources for churches, which can be adapted to suit any size of church team or contact us to discuss webinars, training or any other queries.
We're thrilled to announce that our fundraising quiz night raised a whopping £755!
We are so grateful to Sarah Ricketts who volunteered to organise this fundraising social for us and pulled together a fantastic evening of entertainment for our first social event since the pandemic. One of the teams called themselves "Glad to Be Out!" and it certainly was brilliant to be part of the buzz of the evening after the last two years.
Sean Carey, a writer for The Chase, was an excellent Quiz Master and set the balance perfectly between questions that were hard enough to be interesting but not impossible. We're so grateful to Sean for giving his time so generously to deliver such an enjoyable quiz.
Special thanks also goes to:
And of course huge thanks to everyone that came along and made it such a fun evening, and supported us so generously!
A huge success and a highly enjoyable evening and one we are keen to repeat so watch this space!
16/5/2022 0 Comments
To mark Dementia Action Week, we are very grateful to Dr Fiona Costa for writing this guest blog on practical suggestions for using music in the care of people with dementia.
Dr Fiona Costa originally trained at the Royal College of Music. Her lifelong interest in music, together with a calling to a ministry with older people, has led to a range of different initiatives and interests. As a research fellow at the University of Roehampton, her principal research interest is the effect of music on the wellbeing and quality of life of older people. Her PhD and subsequent research projects have studied how music can alleviate pain, stress, anxiety and depression. Her most recent work focuses on the use of music to assist in maintaining memory and the ability to communicate in people with dementia.
One way of engaging with music is simply to listen to it.
People often ask me what music they should choose for people with dementia to listen to. What is most effective? This is a key question. And the answer lies with each individual person. What music do they enjoy? What music have they listened to throughout their lives? There is no point playing them some Bach or Mozart if they have never shown any particular liking for that music. They may hate classical music. Instead, try to find out what music they have experienced through their life and what music they love.
Here are some questions you can ask – either of the person you are caring for, or if that is not possible, their friends and family.
By asking questions such as these, you can start to put together a playlist of music that means something to the person or people that you are looking after. Try and find music with different moods – some more lively music and some calm music. They can be used in different situations.
Here are some websites that can help you:
Once you have a playlist, what is the best way of using it?
Here are a few ideas. Every person is different, so try them out and see what is most helpful for your situation. Think about the mood of the music that you select – different situations require different moods. And individuals may have particular preferences.
You may find that listening to music in these ways brings a range of benefits. Some can be observed straight away, some accrue over time. For example, there may be an improvement in mood, a lessening of anxiety, an increased awareness of other people and their surroundings, and even some temporary improvement in understanding. Of course, everyone is different and some people will respond more positively than others. You may also find that, over time, your own wellbeing is improved, both from the music itself and from a lessening of the caregiver burden.
A few notes about how to listen to the music.
The ideas above just relate to listening to music. Of course, there are other activities that you can try which involve more participation. Here is just one of them. People with severe dementia who have lost the ability to interpret spoken instructions may respond better if instructions are given in song. You could, for example, sing an instruction for them to stand up (or whatever it is that you are asking them to do) – either by putting the words to a well-known song or by making something up on the spot. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece! Called caregiver singing, recent research studies have shown promising results. It is definitely worth a try.
Find out more - free information packs
These ideas are just a start. I have concentrated on those suitable for someone caring for an individual person with dementia – for those working in care homes, there are so many other ideas and activities that you can try in group situations and in the wider community. If you are interested in discovering more, I have some simple, easy to follow, information packs that my colleague Professor Adam Ockelford and I have put together. If you would like a free set, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you one.
This month we’re celebrating a year with our wonderful social media volunteer, Clara!
Clara joined our team last Spring after spotting the role advertised by Richmond CVS while she was studying remotely during lockdown and looking for an opportunity to give back to her community. Now back at university in-person, Clara has continued juggling her busy student schedule with creating content for our social media accounts as well as inspiring us with her enthusiasm and fresh ideas.
What better time to shine a spotlight on Clara’s immense contribution to Embracing Age, through her reflections on her time with us so far.
"I have volunteered with Embracing Age since March 2021, and assist in creating content for social media. I really love being able to collate and share all the wonderful projects that Embracing Age is working on!
As part of my role, I have been very fortunate to interact with Embracing Age’s amazing volunteers, brilliant trustees and the wonderful team of staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes. It has been so valuable to gain insight into how a charity is run, and see first-hand all the work that goes into making change in our community.
I became involved with Embracing Age because I think their goal of combatting isolation amongst older people, and their core values of hope, faith and respect are incredibly important. Volunteering this past year has shown me just how much these values are at the core of Embracing Age’s projects, and how much they are shared amongst staff and volunteers alike.
One of my favourite volunteering memories was accompanying other volunteers to deliver the sensory aquariums created by Embracing Age for care home residents. It was really special to see the reaction of care home staff, and later receive such wonderful feedback about how much residents enjoyed them.
I encourage you to find out more about volunteering opportunities with Embracing Age. I feel so proud to be part of such a wonderful community and am sure that you will too."
Embracing Age simply wouldn’t operate without our incredible volunteers, who give their time and skills in such a variety of ways, including visiting residents, writing personal letters, crafting beautiful handmade items, exercising their green-fingers with flower bouquets and gardening projects, supporting us with admin and other key areas in the running of our projects, raising vital funds and of course our trustees who are a constant source of support.
THANK YOU to Clara, and to all our volunteers, for all the time and passion they give to working towards a world where older people are valued, connected, full of hope.
Would you like to find out more about getting involved with Embracing Age? You can see current opportunities here and choose how you'll start making a difference today.
This month we interviewed Amy Faith Morley, the singer songwriter who is generously gifting copies of her lockdown album, “Abide with Me”, to care homes across the country.
That’s amazing at such a young age! So where did life and music take you as you headed into adult life?
By the age of 17, a series of events and miracles led me to become a born again Christian and from that point my life changed and I found myself on a journey of faith really. I spent my late teens through to my mid twenties at a Bible College where I met Josh. We got married in 2011 and joined YWAM (that’s Youth With a Mission) which led us to various volunteer mission trips overseas, to places like Ukraine, Albania and America. In every country I found that although the cultures were diverse, beautiful and different in their own unique ways, the brokenness of humanity is pretty much the same everywhere.
As someone who went through a lot in my younger years, I know what it means to be hurt and broken. I have also discovered what it can look like to set out on a healing journey and to find ongoing freedom. It’s out of my bad and good experiences that I have wanted to serve God and help others also.
In my mid twenties after a long break from singing professionally my old music college tutor offered to produce an album for me. He helped me to develop as a songwriter and play my songs alongside a full country/rock band and record them for my debut original album 'Morning Star'. This led to me playing in churches, bars, soup kitchens, care homes and music festivals; only this time I felt I had so much more to give in terms of my story, life experience and able to relate with my audience a lot more compassionately than my younger years. I like to think the more we experience as human beings, the more compassionate we become, and especially as a Christian, the deeper my love for Jesus grows, the more I find that I have the capacity to love others better.
Tell us a bit about your album ‘Abide with Me’ - what was your inspiration behind it, and what was it like recording it at home during the start of the pandemic?
Before the pandemic I had plans to travel abroad with my husband Josh on several mission trips and teach in some youth classes. I also had gigs lined up and a new original project to record for my second album. But when the pandemic hit, like many others, I found myself stuck at home with many plans cancelled. As a Christian I love to pray and spend time meditating with my Bible and sometimes play music alongside these devotional times. I found myself picking up an old hymn book and just reading through some of the lyrics. I was touched by the comfort, peace and hope found in many of the words to the hymns. It also reminded me of when my grandparents used to play old vinyl records and on some of those records old traditional hymns are recorded in a country and western style! I love the hymn 'Abide with Me' and it seemed so fitting for the season we were all in around the world!
You're generously gifting copies of 'Abide with Me' to care homes across the UK. What inspired you to do this and how's it going?
My heart particularly went out to the elderly during the pandemic! As a younger person I at least had the luxury of an iPad and whatsapp videos with family, and Zoom for work and ministry. But my elderly grandparents struggled at times to join in and this can feel very isolating. I thought a lot about how the elderly might be getting on. They are such intimate and present people, at least I have found throughout my life. Some of the oldest have lived through World War II and are such resilient people. And yet, I often feel like as our generation moves forward with such 'speed' especially online, and in the world of technology, the elderly often get sort of left behind in the process. I felt that if I couldn't go into the care homes and sing, maybe a CD to encourage people might be supportive and fun for them. I had set aside an amount of money for the original album but, after prayer, decided this was a season to set aside my own desires, and gift hymns instead.
So I bought a batch of CDs and so far have sent them to just over 100 care homes and chaplaincy ministries around the country. Each CD comes with a wax-sealed, handwritten postcard personalised to either an individual or the name of the care home/hospice and a yellow rose postcard for people to put on their fridge or notice board. I handwrite and wax seal the postcards because, in a day and age where technology seems to be taking over most things, I still love and appreciate the feel of pen and paper, as I know many older people do as well. It gives a personal touch and says “I took the time to sit down, light a candle, think of you and write a note just for you!” I had pen pals growing up and always looked forward to their stories, questions and sometimes the little stickers we would send back and forth to encourage each other. I appreciate what we have nowadays with instant access to video calls, emails and Facebook. But sometimes it’s really nice to receive that letter, that personalised touch.
I have received messages from friends saying that the hymns really encouraged their loved ones in care homes. I also received positive feedback and an invite to sing 'Abide with Me' at a funeral. I went and sang, although it was a tough one seeing people sitting so far apart and masked, as I was the only one allowed to sing. This made me feel very sad, but at the same time I knew it was encouraging the family and friends of the person who had passed away.
Do you have any personal experience of care homes?
Yes! I have visited friends in nursing homes and had the privilege of singing in a few too! The first time I sang in a care home was in the town I was born and bred, a place called Moxley Court. My junior school friend Max and I sang some Abba songs and a few war time songs. My little sister did a dance and we put on quite the variety show for the residents, who were really overjoyed! We were only kids, so it really broke up the mundane routine and filled the place with some vibrant music and laughter too!
More recently at a nursing home in the USA I had the privilege of visiting our dear friend's late mother, a sweet lady who sadly went through Alzheimer's. I got to sing and play guitar for the residents there and we shared some sweet moments, playing games, singing along and simply sitting with people and holding their hands as they shared their own life stories.
What's your favourite song on this album and why?
Ah, that's a hard one as I like many of them for different reasons...
Amazing Grace for its beautiful words that many can relate to, and this is probably one of the most upbeat songs on the album. I had a lot of fun recording this with my singing teacher Elaine Buckland and the Counterpoint Choir on a split screen video, as we all had to record separately from home during lockdown! This song seems to cheer people up the most. I have also sung this in care homes and the country beat usually gets people toe tapping, sometimes even dancing!
I also love the story of Saint Francis of Assisi and the words to 'Make me a channel of your peace'. I think this song is especially relevant for today, with us all going through a global pandemic and now the devastation we are seeing in Ukraine. This is such a simple song, often sung in school assemblies when I was growing up, but it really is like a prayer, asking to be a vessel of God's love and peace in this world.
I think my personal favourite is 'Jesus paid it all'. When I think of my life before I came to faith, and the broken mess it was in as a teenager compared with life now, it really was and is the grace of God. When I think of Jesus and what He has done in my life, I am very humbled.
If someone would like a CD for a care home, how should they request one?
You can email me at email@example.com or find more details on the Embracing Age website.
And how can other people connect with you and enjoy your music?
My biography and music is all on my website, and my full catalogue of songs, vlogs and music videos are all on my youtube channel. You can also stream or download the album on Apple, ITunes, Amazon and Spotify.
It's always encouraging when people go to the website and buy the physical CDs too. I also have 'Abide' candles available through my website shop at: www.amyfaithmorley.com/store.
Anyone who wants to journey with me, can find me on Instagram and Facebook, where I share regular updates.
“I first became involved with Embracing Age’s Care Home Friends project during the Pandemic, having retired the previous year. I had worked with children and their families all through my professional career and I wanted to use my knowledge and skills, but with a different group of vulnerable people. I had listened to personal stories of loneliness experienced by older people in care homes (a direct parallel to how children in care feel) and by chance was introduced to this charity by Rebecca, who had recently become the Isle of Wight Coordinator.
It seemed like providence that the opportunity to do something useful, which also focused on local vulnerable people was presented to me at this time.
While I was involved with the Cards of Kindness project, I was introduced to some amazing people who were volunteering their time and skills and it was truly humbling to see how many generous, gifted people are in the community wanting to support others.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of a charity that offers such an important service to older people, who are often invisible and without a voice (again I was struck with the similarity to Children in Care with whom I had worked for 40 years).
Whilst delivering the cards during the Pandemic, it became clear how committed the staff in the residential homes were to their residents and the huge pressure they were under. Once restrictions were lifted and the homes opened up for visiting, I was connected to one of the residents to whom I had been writing. He sadly passed away earlier this year, but it was such a privilege to get to know him and spend time talking about his life over a nine month period.
When I first visited Keith, one of the other residents said, “Don’t bother speaking with him, he doesn’t speak.”
How wrong they were! I found that by encouraging, listening, and spending time asking Keith questions, he had a remarkable memory and a great sense of humour. He had suffered a stroke which meant that at times he struggled to articulate the words clearly, but with time it became a lot easier to communicate. He had a twinkle in his eye when he was talking about his life, which was heartwarming.
Keith’s life had been hard - he had been separated from his family during the war for several months, without a clear understanding of why and whether he would see them again. When he did become reunited, there was little joy that he could recall - no parties or celebrations for birthdays or religious festivals. He had been in the navy and finally a fireman. He married a woman who had escaped domestic abuse and had 6 step children. There was little contact between him and the step children after his wife’s death, hence finding himself in residential care following his stroke.
One of the striking characteristics of Keith was that he never spoke with bitterness or regret, which I found amazing given the hardships he had encountered. He also talked animatedly about some of his travels in Australia and Europe and we were able to share many experiences given I had also been lucky enough to travel a fair bit.
When I heard that Keith had passed away, I felt terribly sad, but also fortunate that I had been given the opportunity to get to know him. I was particularly grateful that I had managed to see him before Christmas and watch his face light up when I gave him the bag of presents from Embracing Age, as well as some personal gifts from me.
It was a privilege to be able to engage with Keith and the wonderful staff at the home who are so overworked. It would be impossible for staff to spend such intensive time with each resident.
I am sure that Keith also looked forward to my visits and it always seemed that his speech was a bit clearer at the end of each visit, which was a bonus.
I would certainly recommend others getting involved in Embracing Age - to bring a smile to someone’s face is so rewarding.”
*Name has been changed for anonymity.
We all know that keeping active in all phases of life is extremely important. As we age, there are a number of factors that can affect our ability to exercise but it is important to focus on what we can do, rather than what we cannot.
Doing exercises that improve our flexibility, aerobic capacity, balance and strength are essential to maintain our overall fitness, improve our sense of well-being, enable us to carry out every day activities and, very importantly, to prevent falls.
So what do we need to do? Below are some suggestions for exercises that can be done every day to help us maintain these functions. Try and find a trigger to help remember to do some exercise – for example, while waiting for the kettle to boil.
1. Heel Raises
Facing and holding onto your kitchen worktop, rise up on the balls of your feet and lower down gently. Stand tall, knees relaxed, keeping your tummy muscles pulled in and your chin level. Do 10 repetitions. This exercise strengthens the ankles and calf muscles to improve balance and walking. Heel raises can also be done whilst sitting in a chair.
2. Arm Raises
Stand side on to your kitchen worktop, holding the worktop with one hand. Stand tall as above and, holding a can of soup or bottle of water in the other hand, raise the arm to shoulder level and down again. Keep a slight bend in the raised arm. Repeat 10 times on each side. This exercise strengthens the arms and shoulders to help with everyday tasks such as housework and gardening. This could also be done whilst seated.
3. Sit to Stand
Place a dining chair with its back against your kitchen worktop. Sit towards the front half of the chair, sit tall pulling in your tummy muscles, shoulders down and relaxed, draw feet back slightly so knees are over toes. Push down into the feet, lean forward and use momentum to push up from the chair to stand up fully. Sit back down gently. Repeat 10 times. This exercise strengthens the thigh muscles to help with climbing stairs and walking. A seated alternative would be to sit with your back against the back of a dining chair and raise alternate legs straight out in front of you – try to hold each leg for 10 seconds.
4. ‘Swimming’ forward and back
Stand or sit tall with feet hip width apart. Keeping your chin level and your tummy muscles pulled in, use alternate arms to perform a ‘front crawl’ swimming action keeping the elbow bent. Then take alternate hands up and back over the head as if brushing your hair. Aim to do 10 repetitions in each direction. Work within your own range and at your own pace. This improves shoulder mobility to aid in everyday living such as putting on your coat or reaching for a seat belt.
Please remember that it is never too late to start to exercise and that, to steal a phrase, ‘every little helps’!
If you have any concerns regarding your ability to exercise, please consult with your doctor or health professional before attempting these exercises.
We are delighted to announce that Allchurches Trust have awarded us a #HopeBeyond grant for our new Carers Connected project. Carers Together will provide a safe, friendly space for informal carers to connect with others over weekly Zoom calls, providing peer support, togetherness and prayer opportunities.
We have spoken to Christian carers about the challenges of caring. It can be isolating and tiring - all the more during lockdown when usual activities like dementia cafes or day centres are closed. Nationally, 80% of carers say they feel lonely or isolated, and 61% have experienced physical ill health as a result of caring. Christian carers can find themselves cut off from their church community if they are unable to attend due to the needs of the person they care for. Others find attending church a welcome lifeline of support, but this has been disrupted by the pandemic. Online services have enabled many to worship from their homes, but not always to experience the fellowship they might get from attending in person.
Technological advancements during recent months, like Zoom, create opportunities to connect Christian carers across the country. Carers Connected will provide a safe space for them to connect weekly over Zoom to chat and pray, with regular guest speakers, followed by discussion groups. Those without online access will be able to phone in to participate. Carers told us they don't just want to talk about subjects relating to caring, but to tap into peoples' passions and talents, hearing about the diverse hobbies and interests of others, so this will be incorporated into the programme.
We will also be preparing resources for churches on caring for carers.
We are busy behind the scenes getting a pilot project ready for launch. If you know a carer who might like to be involved, please encourage them to contact us to find out more.
We are hugely grateful to Allchurches Trust for their support in helping to make Carers Connected a reality.
We are excited to launch our first virtual challenge event and we would love to see people of all ages and abilities get involved.
This year marks Embracing Age's 5th birthday and the event is all about celebrating what everyone, especially our volunteers, has achieved and doing something fun using everyone's individual talents to raise funds for the journey ahead.
As it's a virtual challenge, you can take part in your own time, wherever you're based, either as an individual or part of a team. Simply choose any challenge whether sporting, creative or anything else you fancy and link it to the number 5 whether by distance, time or quantity.
Click below to find out more and get involved.
I’d like to tell you about a friendship that's been forming between an elderly gentleman, Jack, and one of our volunteers, Serhan. Thanks to funding we secured from RPLC to provide tablet devices to care homes, that friendship is now continuing virtually using Skype.
Jack (94) and his wife Rosie moved into a care home together last year, but Rosie sadly passed away just three months later. Jack is very interested in people and the world around him, but doesn’t tend to engage in group activities, preferring to spend most of his day in his room reading the newspaper and chatting to the staff one-on-one during their checks. He is visited regularly by one of our volunteers, Serhan, for about an hour each time.
I visited Jack before the lockdown and had a rich and interesting chat with him on various topics - the history of the local area, war and peace, current affairs (which he is very up-to-speed on), life values, world travel, his late wife, as well as his regular visits from Serhan. He told me how much he values and appreciates Serhan’s visits and that he’s particularly interested to chat to Serhan about his home country of Turkey. Jack and Rosie travelled extensively together so he really enjoys being able to talk to someone from a different country and learn about their culture and the “real” side of their country that you wouldn’t see as a tourist. Chatting to Jack, it was clear that Serhan’s visits help him feel connected to the outside world and are something he looks forward to all week.
It was so heartwarming to hear from Serhan that he sees the friendship as something that also benefits him: “My friend is 94 years old and I have learnt a lot of things about Richmond and the UK from him. It is very good for me to understand UK society’s dynamics and changes during the last 85 years. He is always smiling when he sees me and always thanking me at the end of the visit. It makes me happy talking to him.”
The activities coordinator at Jack’s care home told us “the residents find the visits from your volunteers to be a life enhancing activity. Although we have a very busy activities programme here, it’s important for residents to be given opportunities for one to one meaningful engagement outside of this, especially for residents who may not receive many visitors. It's wonderful that the volunteers visit on such a regular basis as it provides the residents with continuity and has a huge positive impact on the resident's quality of life and well being.”
It is always heartening to see what a difference the care home visits make to residents, volunteers and care home staff and we are so grateful to each of them for their time, support and engagement in these projects.
With the current restrictions on visiting care homes, it's now more important than ever to find ways to connect care home residents with their family, friends and our volunteers for that one to one companionship. Thanks to funding from RPLC we have donated tablet devices to care homes across the borough so that residents can join video calls. We were thrilled to hear that Jack and Serhan had their first Skype call this week and that Jack was really delighted by the experience. We look forward to more of our volunteer-resident friendships blossoming via video calls until visits can be resumed.
Most care homes have now restricted visitors in order to protect their residents from the virus. 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 we 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.
It can be hard to visit someone you love 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 we love feeling loved, cared for and happy? How do we bring enjoyment to someone living with advanced dementia? Here are my top tips:
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.
We are delighted to welcome John Noble as a new ambassador for Embracing Age. We asked John to share some of his story:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience of supporting a loved one with dementia.
Well Tina, that’s a challenge without writing a book! I’ve been in Christian ministry with my lovely wife for almost 60 years! We were married in 1958 and after seeing the folly of some involvement we had in the occult, we soon found the Holy Spirit at work in our lives as we were caught up with the Charismatic Renewal which emerged in the 1960s in a big way. Alongside bringing our five wonderful children into the world, we planted churches, shared in great conferences like Spring Harvest and developed a team to serve the church here in the UK and around the World.
Having been trained at the Royal Academy, Christine had a passion to see the arts functioning freely in worship and the church’s mission. With her team she pioneered the use of movement, drama and art which, with a strong prophetic element, enriched our gatherings at every level. She was greatly used in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and has seen many people delivered, healed and released into ministry. She also did much to gender self-esteem with women and encouraged them to pursue their God-given callings in work, home and church in whichever way the Lord was leading them.
Together we were a great team and spent many years serving the church from simple tribal village fellowships in Asia and Africa to the city churches of the West and beyond.
In 2011 Christine was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia and we were faced with the greatest challenge of our long and happy relationship. I was devastated and wanted everyone to know and pray for us, while Christine was inclined to be in a measure of denial. This immediately led to some tension and made it difficult to manage the inevitable adjustments the progression of the disease brought. Nothing I had been through in life had prepared me for the situation we found ourselves in and so began a massive learning curve for me.
I must admit that I didn’t always handle things very well as the Christine I knew seemed to fade away and a different Christine emerged. It was a Christine who didn’t behave and react the way she had done in the past and left me coming to terms with a disturbing range of emotions from bewilderment and confusion to hurt, anger and sadness. If it wasn’t for the support of a loving family, praying friends and a few people with experience who listened to my pain and took time to sympathise and gently give some words of counsel, I would not have survived.
Two days after my 80th birthday Christine was taken into care for a couple of weeks to sort out her medication which wasn’t working too well. It was the worst day of my life and I wept buckets. During her short stay she was seen to be in an advanced stage of disease and the assessor said that she was amazed that we had managed to cope for so long. So, Christine stayed in the home which was both a relief and a further devastation.
Why are you motivated to see more volunteers in care homes?
I have visited Christine every day for the last 22 months and watched her deteriorate to the point where she is immobile and has all but lost her speech. By God’s grace this experience has softened my heart and changed my understanding of those who have to cope or live with the disease.
I see the incredible commitment of so many carers, the majority of whom are immigrants. They work long shifts and the pay is not great. Every day they face the challenges of residents, most of whom are confused and concerned or totally dependent on their input and a few can be quite aggressive. Their time is taken up with the simple chores of dealing with the basic needs of feeding, washing and watching. Whilst many go the extra mile and try to spend time interacting with residents it is impossible for them to give the attention which would help to make life a little more bearable, especially for those who have no family or friends to visit.
I began to think about the difference a few volunteers, who have received a little training, could make to the lives, not only of the residents, but to the staff as well. I have seen how easy it is to get alongside folk to give them some assurance and a little love which brings light into their darkness and peace in their confusion. We have also made some real friendships with the staff who appreciate us being around and they are interested when we take time to share something of our experiences and faith.
There is another area where I see we can make a difference if we are sensitive. During one of my first visits to see Christine I was distressed and upset. A lady who was visiting her mother took a moment to come over to me and offer kind words of comfort and encouragement. During my daily visits I have had dozens of opportunities to do the same for other visitors who might be facing an emotional challenge with their loved one.
In our daily lives we find it difficult to engage with people who are busily going about their daily routines. However, when a life is turned upside down by the circumstances which bring them to a care home, they are vulnerable and open to receive a little love and tenderness which a caring volunteer might be able to offer.
When I discovered Embracing Age and all that you are doing, I was delighted and thrilled to know that my growing concern to see an army of volunteers supporting care homes across the UK was already being addressed a professional way. Thanks Tina for the amazing work you have started and more power to your elbow!
If you could give one piece of advice to the younger generation what would it be?
Sadly, over recent years in our society, community life is all but gone. The security and support communities provided has been dissipated. Family life has largely disappeared and people are more and more isolated. One tragic result of this is an ever-widening generational gap which breeds suspicion, fear and even anger and aggression between the young and old.
My advice to the younger generation which is emerging in this climate is, please take time to consider the long-term effects of perpetuating this situation. One day you will be old and will need love and support. So, with all the energy, hopes and aspirations you have, let us, together, find a way to buck the trend and reverse the divisions. Let us rediscover the incredible reservoir of wisdom and energy which reside in the two generations and see how this can be a force for positive change in this troubled world.
A local cubs group wanted to do something to help people with dementia, so they decided to spend time with residents at a local care home and also to raise money for Embracing Age. We asked some cubs to tell us about it:
"The First St Margarets Cubs Pack have been raising money for dementia. Dementia is an illness when people forget memories that have happened since they got dementia, but they can still remember things from before.
We have raised £314.05 for Embracing Age. We achieved this by doing a sponsored eat-a-thon and we had a BBQ with all the people with dementia from Dalemead care home in East Twickenham.
This was part of The Million Hands Scouts project. There are five areas that we found out about and then we voted which area the pack was going to support. These consisted of dementia, disabilities, mental wellbeing and finally clean water and sanitation. We found out about each one of these and the pack voted for dementia.
To earn our badge we had to complete these five tasks:
1. Identify need – we learnt about dementia.
2. Plan action – we planed the eat-a-thon and the BBQ.
3. Take action – we had our eat-a-thon & visited Dalemead.
4. Learn and do more – we talked about dementia as a cub pack.
5. Tell the world – this is what we are doing now.
We really enjoyed taking part in this project and have learned lots about dementia."
By Tilly, Maia & Ciara
The residents and staff at the care home loved having the cubs visit and hope it might be the start of an ongoing relationship. A very big thank you and well done to the 1st St Margaret's Cubs Pack!
If you volunteer in a care home for any length of time you are inevitably going to come face to face with loss, as we spend time with people in the sunset of their lives. This was brought home to me this week. I have been visiting Joan (not her real name) who has dementia, for over 18 months. I am her only visitor and everything I know about her has come out of our chats over that time (plus extra research I have done on google), as she has no family that she is in contact with. I’ve grown very fond of Joan, who by all accounts has lived an independent and rather eccentric life. She often shouts at staff in her frustration of wanting to live at home, but has warmed to me and even though she doesn’t always know from week to week who I am, I always sense a recognition in her eyes that I am someone she has a good relationship with.
Over the last 2 months I have a seen a considerable decline in Joan’s physical and cognitive functioning. She is no longer able to tell me any stories from her past. I used to be able to prompt her and she would continue the rest of the story, but now I find myself recounting her stories back to her, reminding her of who she is.
This week was the worst I have seen her and I came away feeling so sad: sad for Joan that her physical and cognitive functioning has declined so much, sad that she is so unhappy and sad for the loss of our relationship, that we can no longer chat and laugh as we used to. And also frustrated at my own inadequacy to really make a difference to her situation.
I suspect I am not the only volunteer who has felt like this and I want to open up the conversation. Has anyone felt like this? How do you deal with it? I guess writing this blog is part of my attempt to process my thoughts and feelings, along with writing a journal. There is always the choice to stop visiting, but somehow that seems more of a running away than a processing of loss.
So at the moment I am digging deeper and thinking of more creative ways to connect with Joan, as her ability to converse diminishes. She has not come across as tactile up till now so my usual ideas around hand massages and touch don’t seem so appropriate. But she does like classical music so perhaps we can listen to that together and it may soothe her agitation.
Loss will be inevitable as Joan’s disease progresses but I want to journey with her through this valley until the ultimate sunset of her passing. And perhaps feeling that sometimes along the way I was able to bring a little light to her darkness and a little calm to her agitation will help me to process my own sadness.
I was chatting with one of our care home friend volunteers a few weeks ago and he said something that really struck me: “I’m not afraid of dementia any more”. Given that dementia is the most feared illness in our society, this is no small thing.
Today I caught up with him to find out more. Stephen, 78, is a retired architect and started volunteering for Embracing Age as he wanted to contribute to his local community. He responded to a request for a volunteer to play chess, without realising that the resident actually needed to learn how to play, which Stephen felt ill equipped to do. Instead they now read poetry to each other and have built a mutual friendship. Stephen has also got to know some of the other residents - he estimates that about 75% of them have some degree of dementia.
I asked Stephen why he’s not afraid of dementia any more:
“I think we all have an in built fear of losing our minds. A relative has had dementia for the last 18 months and watching him crash has not been very nice, if I can put it that way. But there, at the care home, most of those with dementia still try to communicate, and if you make an effort you can talk to them, and you realise that dementia isn’t the end of life for them. I’m amazed how open people are, they plough on with their interests, like gardening, and if you get them on a subject they’re interested in, they really open up. One lady in her 90’s is a barrel of fun, we always joke and she has a really great attitude to her dementia. She says, “I love it here. I know I can’t remember what happened yesterday”. She’s not letting it get on top of her, which I think is wonderful.”
This year at the Council's Full of Life Fair, celebrating Older People's Day, we worked with churches across the Borough of Richmond to showcase the plethora of activities they run for older people. We produced a leaflet detailing all the activities and gave out over 350, with a free tealight. Most people had no idea that so many activities were available in local churches and we were very well received.
To see what's happening for older people in local churches across the Borough click on our interactive map.
I read a very moving post on facebook earlier this week from John Noble, who with his wife Christine, have been influential in church leadership over many years. He shares about Christine's journey with dementia and he has given me permission to reporoduce his post here. Well worth a read:
"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!"
As we wish farewell to a number of our volunteers who are off to university I thought I'd share some of their experiences with you. Here's what Lucy says:
"I started volunteering in December of 2015, and was placed in a small dementia care home a short bus ride away from my house.
When I applied to Embracing Age, I expected to go to a care home and chat to a few of the residents and maybe play a few board games with them. However, when I arrived at the care home, I was asked if I played any musical instruments. I (reluctantly!) admitted that I am able to play some piano, and agreed to find some songs that I could play on the care home’s keyboard for the residents to sing along to. This was not a decision that I regretted. Though out of my comfort zone, it was clear to see that some of the residents had few opportunities to sing and really enjoyed joining in during my weekly visits. I will never forget the moment that one particularly sick resident woke up from his sleep, sang along to one song, told us that it was from war time and then promptly fell back asleep. Or the times when another resident, unable to sing, stood up and danced to the music instead. It has been amazing to see how music can connect us all and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
It has been a privilege and a pleasure to get to know the lovely ladies and gentleman of my care home and I will always look back on my time there very fondly."
I was chatting to a care home resident who was so excited to be going on a trip out to Marks and Spencers and Boots this week. She explained how lovely it was just to wander round her favourite shops and how it was these normal things in life that she had missed so much since moving in to a care home. After feedback from residents this care home is organising regular shopping trips to the local retail park.
I’ve also had a request from a care home manager this week for a volunteer to accompany a gentleman on regular trips to the local shops and pub. Again, the normal things in life that we just take for granted.
I was reflecting on how these normal everyday activities mean so much to care home residents. It reminded me of the lady I visit who has quite advanced dementia. We spend an hour together every week just chatting, looking at pictures and laughing together. At the end of every visit she is always so effusive in her thanks: “Thank you so much for visiting me. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to! Thank you so much!” Of course, it’s always nice to be appreciated, but I always feel quite humbled to think that something so simple and so small, just an hour of my time, can mean so much to someone. It really is the small things that count.
On 27th April Tina travelled to Newton Flotman in Norfolk to train a group of 8 volunteers in the first replication of our Care Home Friends project beyond the Borough of Richmond.
We hope it will be the first of many replications, making a difference in the lives of care home residents one person at a time.
Many thanks to nutritional therapist Sarah Wragg for this blog on eating well.
Eating well at any age is important. However ageing can change our attitude and approach to food and it is not uncommon for a person's appetite to diminish. There are many reasons why the elderly may skip a meal, from forgetfulness to a financial burden, depression to dental problems, and loneliness to frailty. Some foods become difficult to chew or digest. Or sometimes the ability to taste food declines in the elderly, blunting appetite.
Even if one doesn't feel hungry, it is still important to make sure your body has the energy and nutrients it needs to thrive. As we get older, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing some key nutrients also. This can sometimes be due to declining hydrochloric acid levels (stomach acid), which helps us break down our food and also absorb vitamins and minerals from our food. If one is suffering from indigestion from time to time, which can be a problem in the elderly, then taking some organic apple cider vinegar before meals or squeezing half a lemon into a little water may help, again drinking it before a meal. Healthy snacking maybe a way forward too, for example if you don’t like to eat large meals, or don't feel hungry enough to eat three full meals a day. One solution is to have mini-meals throughout the day. If this is the case, make sure each mini-meal is nutritionally-dense with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Seeking help from a Nutritional Therapist could be useful if you are finding you have on-going digestive issues.
If you are finding you cannot eat as much as you should, then the food you do eat must be as nutritious as possible. Such as unprocessed foods that are high in calories and nutrients for their size, if one is losing weight this is particularly important. Some examples include: healthy fats (nut butters, oily fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil), whole grains (brown rice, oats and quinoa), fresh fruits (brightly coloured berries, bananas, pomergrante) and vegetables (sweet potato, frozen peas, cooked tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, carrots) - canned and frozen are also good choices if it is not easy to get fresh. Not forgetting protein-rich beans, pulses, meat and dairy products such as greek yoghurt or eggs.
What nutrients are really important as we age?
Eating foods rich in B vitamins can help with energy release such as meats, pulses, sweet potatoes. Foods rich in calcium can help feed the bones which is important as we age such as tinned fish (including eating the bones), broccoli, tofu. Foods rich in folic acid can help with brain health, such as asparagus; green leafy vegetables plus oily fish for omega 3. Vitamin D is also important as we age which can aid bone health, whilst also helping with the absorption of calcium into the bones. Getting out into the sunshine for 20 minutes a day without sunscreen can aid vitamin D absorption. It can also be worthwhile getting your levels checked with your GP. Iron is also important for energy which may diminish as we age, slow cooked lamb or venison can help with digesting meats you may find otherwise hard to consume. Red meats will provide not only iron but also B12, which is important for energy, among many other pathways in the body.
Ways to help
Whether it’s because of physical limitations or financial hardship or lack of energy, you may find eating and enjoying food difficult. If one feels lonely this may also diminish the desire to eat. Finding a group to join where you can meet like-minded individuals to eat with can help or taking it in turn to have a ‘supper club’ at a friends house can encourage eating. Remember chewing your food well is important to aid digestion, plus taking a gentle walk before a meal can help stimulate the appetite, plus calm the mind. Lots of home-made soups are also a winner – both nutritious and easy to digest! Try to make food interesting, combining textures, such as greek yogurt with granola, with a handful of berries to make foods more appetizing.
For further help or advice contact Sarah Wragg
Nutritional Therapist BSc (Hons)
www.mattersforhealth.co.uk - 07702 492302
Over the last few weeks I have spent time getting to know Jean and she is keen for people to hear her story, so here it is:
Jean is a 90 year old lady who has weekly visits from one of our volunteers, called Mike. Jean describes how she didn’t feel mentally ready to move into a care home, but needed to for physical reasons. She does not see much of her family, as they spend a portion of the year out of the country, and felt cut off and in need of stimulation from the outside world. Jean is full of praise about the care she receives from staff, but she feels there are not many residents she can have a conversation with, and she can’t get out easily on her own.
Mike takes Jean for an hour’s walk along the River Thames; initially Jean walked with her walking aid, but latterly Mike has pushed her in a wheelchair. She describes how they have lovely chats: “We talk about things that we wouldn’t talk about in here. I feel like I am out in the normal world talking about different things. It’s normal and it’s lovely! I look forward to his visits all week”.
Jean explains how at one point as she was adjusting to life in a care home she starting having what she describes as a “meltdown”. She felt like she had no-one to talk to and no-one to tell. She channelled her emotional turmoil into painting and produced the picture below, that depicts herself in a storm, not knowing how to get out. She had not done much art before and found painting to be a therapeutic release. However, she also felt frustrated - she had wanted to paint really rough seas but didn’t know how to. She mentioned to Mike that she would love someone to help her develop her painting skills. Mike told Embracing Age staff and we put a request out on twitter, which a local artist responded to. Jean has now had two sessions with the artist, which she really enjoyed.
Jean says she couldn’t do without the volunteers she has from Embracing Age. She says that Mike has “filled the gap” and “transformed my life.”