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.”
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions how people can reduce their risk of getting dementia and I’ve found I’ve been hesitant to answer, perhaps because there are so many causes of dementia it’s difficult to know where to start.
But last week I had one of those light bulb moments of clarity. I was listening to a talk from the Head of Public Health England and he used the phrase, “What’s good for your heart is good for your head!” This makes so much sense, since vascular dementia has the same risk factors as heart disease and strokes. Plus there’s apparently increasing evidence that individual cases of dementia are often a mixture of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Most of us know what’s good for our heart: a healthy diet, regular exercise, don’t smoke and only drink in moderation. Now whether we live by those principles is another matter; six weeks since New Year and I’m sure most of our resolutions are a dim and distant memory. But perhaps if we realised we were helping our heads as well as our hearts we would have a bit more resolve.
If you want more information on dementia visit our webpage www.dementiaresources.org.uk
I decided last year that I wanted to do something selfless. I felt volunteering for a care home would be reasonably selfless; although not so selfless I wouldn’t enjoy it. I have been visiting residents in a care home for the past 5 months. I initially played games with the ladies: sometimes dominoes with an individual and sometimes scrabble with a group. I also took one of the ladies out to Kew Gardens for a walk which was pleasant.
I felt it would be nice to think of an activity which would bring the members of this home together, so I started doing a quiz. It took me a few weeks to realise their interests so that I could tailor the quiz to suit them. I still on occasion include questions which make references to modern concepts like Twitter and the #hashtag. The ladies have informed me that some of these words sound like a foreign language, so I know not to include such words in future quizzes.
The ladies are wonderful and have led amazing lives. One lady was a midwife, another lady was an architect and another was a teacher. Many of them are mothers and grandmothers and some are great grandmothers. Some of these ladies are able to recall what they were doing on a certain day 50 years ago, some of them have fantastic knowledge of history, one lady is in such great shape she takes her pet dog out many times a day for a walk. The residents have lived rich, full lives, and continue to do so. The women have such a lot of knowledge and life experience I learn a lot from them, they are also fun to be around and I thoroughly enjoy my visits. I have failed at finding an entirely selfless activity.
This year we want to give a voice to care home residents, so every month they are going to have their own blog. By way of introduction, one of our volunteers asked some local care home residents for nuggets of wisdom they have gleaned over the years:
"It’s a wonderfully Christmassy morning at my local care home and I can see there’s a school visit in progress as I enter the lounge. I volunteered to spend the morning with some of the residents here in the hope of recording some of their views and thoughts in a blog entry. Away from the festivities I walk into the quieter lounge to see Mrs. J waving at me. I’m so pleased that she remembers me from a few months ago. Mrs. J has always greeted me with a smile, she always asks after my family and is great company. Although I didn’t chat to her for too long, she gave me a few gems of wisdom. Looking back on her life, she said her marriage was probably the biggest turning point and to this day she could remember every little detail of her wedding day. Her secret to a long and happy marriage was making allowances, listening to each other and never trying to monopolize the other. She tells me that if she could travel back in time, she’d tell her younger self to be more tolerant of everyone. She also wishes today’s young generation was more tolerant. Over the years the biggest lesson she thinks she’s learnt is to listen to other people. At this point I find myself wondering if I’d ever learn to be patient and tolerant! I promise to see her the next time I visit as she goes to her room to rest.
As I walk back to the main lounge I spot Mrs. R sitting on a couch by the door looking beautiful in a green dress and jewellery to match. She says she’s waiting for her annual lunch at the Church but in her excitement got ready too early and had 30 minutes to spare. She was glad to answer some of my questions while she waited. Mrs. R lost her hearing at age 12 because of a very serious illness and it changed her life. At age 15 she had to drop out of school when they started teaching shorthand. At the time there were no hearing aids and coping with everyday life was very difficult. Jobs were limited too. Meeting her now one couldn’t guess she’s deaf as she’s an excellent lip reader.
A year before the war she moved to Cornwall as it was deemed safer. During the war, she found a job as a clerk at the food office - she was 16. She talks of her travel to America and Canada and says some of her happiest memories are from her travels in Montreal, hitchhiking in Kansas and shopping in Atlantic City. She laughs as she remembers how she nearly missed the return boat to England - running in her navy blue dress as they pulled up the gangplank on the Queen Mary. Back in England her favourite job was at a University working in administration. She thoroughly enjoyed University life but hated the word processors when they first arrived on the scene.
She talks of many of her ups and downs in life and her journey as a born again Christian - she believes that her faith helped her get through her difficulties. She has made many friends through the church and thinks she’s a stronger Christian than ever. Her ride is now at the door but she gives me one parting piece of advice to pass on to the world - Find out what you are good at and aim high!
I started volunteering through Embracing Age in January of this year and was placed in a care home just round the corner from my house.
I came across Embracing Age as I was looking for volunteering opportunities in my local area, specifically relating to the elderly. I don’t yet have the commitments of my own family and finding myself with spare time at weekends I was looking for something I could do to use that time more wholesomely. I’ve always had a fondness for the elderly, and living almost four hours from my only remaining grandparent I had missed the knowledge and humour he could impart with such modesty. Above all, I want to do what I can to help appease the unjust nature of old age, and try to make the final stage of residents’ lives a little better, where I can.
I visit the care home every Saturday – unless life takes me out of London on the odd occasion – where there is a coffee morning from 11am. In my first few months I sat and chatted to anyone (who would listen!). It became apparent very quickly there was a strong breadth of characters and needs; from those who had become physically frail and unable to live alone any longer to those in the later stages of dementia. It has truly been a joy getting to know a number of the residents and hearing so many incredibly stories of their lives. At the risk of sounding naïve, I feel I have never quite appreciated how comfortable modern life is until I heard about the upbringing of many of the residents at the home. To sit and talk to a heart surgeon to my left and an ice skating fanatic to my right whilst making a tea for a gentleman who was evacuated to my hometown - there was so much to discuss! I learn something new each and every week and for that I feel really grateful. At the same time, I chat about my life and what’s going on around me and hope I impart some sort of modern-day wisdom of my own. A highlight for me was, at the request of one of the residents, going into town to buy three mangos for his son’s birthday, and seeing the smile on his face when I returned with the ripest, juiciest mangos he had ever seen. He spent the rest of the morning telling anyone who would listen that I was the girl who’d made his son’s birthday.
More recently I have been spending a lot of my time with one particular resident. She has a lovely family living very locally, of which I have met one and heard a lot about the rest, but still seems to appreciate my visits each Saturday morning. Her ability to recall song lyrics, evacuation memories and all sorts of facts and trivia never fails to surprise me. I feel we have formed a lovely bond and I am so glad to have met her. I still see and chat to the other residents, sometimes taking a walk in the garden or catching up over a coffee, and despite the difficulty I find in seeing their deterioration or pain at times, it is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.
A guest blog from an American student who volunteered as a Care Home Friend this summer:
This summer I got in contact with Embracing Age, who got me in touch with a care home in the Borough of Richmond. At first I felt a little intimidated by the experience, as I was unsure of what was going to happen. I went in with quite an open mind, not sure what to expect as I had never really done that kind of work before; it was a new experience for me but I was excited for what the days would entail.
When arriving at the home, I immediately felt welcomed by the whole staff as well as the residents. The manager talked me through protocols and introduced me to all the people at the home.
The residents had different levels of dementia. All of the residents were women, except for a recently turned 100-year old gentleman, who was staying at the home because his wife was also a resident. Meeting all these new people and hearing about all their life stories was such a great experience. Some were extremely talkative and I loved hearing about their younger lives and all their travels.
I also spent the afternoons playing scrabble with two residents. I’m slightly ashamed to admit it but I lost all the games we played! One resident was an amazing scrabble player and her electronic dictionary put me to shame!
The experience was wonderful - incredibly insightful! The staff were welcoming and the residents there were a delight to meet and interact with. I was thoroughly interested in the way the house ran and the enthusiasm of everyone there. I was actually quite sad leaving as I really enjoyed the whole experience. I truly valued the experience of spending time at this care home. I hope that I can go back when I’m back in the UK!
On 27th June 2017 Tina had to do a Dragon Den style presentation as one of the finalists for the Cinnamon Project Lab. She describes it as one of the scariest things she's ever done! So were delighted to be joint winners with another amazing project, Renew Wellbeing.
You can read more about the Cinnamon Project lab here.