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.
What a privilege it was today to be with more than 80 people all keen to know how they can minister to people with dementia and their families. Together we went on a journey of understanding, exploring some of the spiritual and emotional needs of people living with dementia.
Realising once again the importance of knowing the person, entering into their reality and seeing beyond the dementia.
Such uplifting stories of people with dementia touched by music, prayer, worship and Scriptures that affirm their identity. Glimpses of hope amidst the reality of this harsh disease.
Though they may forget our visits, they'll remember the feelings we left them with for much longer.
The message I am taking home is let's not forget people with dementia: stay connected, come alongside; reaffirm their identity and journey with them and their carers along this path.
On Monday we were discussing what “Dying Well” meant in terms of the Dementia Strategy. I emphasised the importance of quality of life and how when I worked as a nurse in palliative care our mantra was to help people to live until they died. This isn’t new. Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the hospice movement wrote, “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life, and we will help you not only to die peacefully but to live until you die.”
But how do we do that for people in the advanced stages of dementia, who can no longer walk, or easily communicate and have reduced cognitive function and who may be in this condition for an extended period? What does quality of life look like for them? It’s a hard question, but today I found some answers.
I participated in a Namaste Care Training day along with 5 care homes from our Borough. I was struck by a comment made by the facilitator, Min Stacpoole. She said that people in the advanced stages of dementia can still experience emotion and enjoyment. In Namaste Care that is given through the senses: the touch of a gentle hand massage, the nostalgia of familiar music, the relaxing scent of lavender, the pleasurable taste of chocolate ice cream.
It was so encouraging to be surrounded by compassionate care home staff who are committed to helping their residents live until they die and who want to explore even better ways of doing it. I’m so excited to see how this is going to unfold across our borough and beyond.
I'm reminded it must be our first birthday about now, as our annual insurance is due for renewal! An appropriate time to reflect on our first year, and what an amazing journey it has been. From concept to reality; from nothing to having about 30 volunteers in 15 care homes across the Borough of Richmond.
So much to be thankful for and so many people who have played a part. Our funders, our volunteers, our supporters, our advisors, our prayer partners, and care home managers who have trusted us and welcomed us into their care homes.
We are not resting on our laurels, there is still more we can do! This week I did my training to become a dementia champion. We have some exciting plans afoot to focus on end of life dementia care, as you'll see from our Namaste Care page. We're also going to be working with churches to look at ways of ministering to people with dementia.
Care home friends will continue - we plan to double the number of volunteers this year and we are well on our way to doing that.
Thank you to everyone who has played a part over this last year.
I’ve been interviewing care home residents to find out their views on how volunteers can be involved in their lives. It’s been lovely to hear their diverse life stories. One thing that stood out for me was the response of a lady in her eighties when I asked her what she thought volunteers could do. In her words: “I think it’s a good thing if volunteers come in and see what happens in care homes because I think it’s a good thing if they carry the message: “Don’t worry if you have to go into a care home – it’s a good place to be.” I’m glad I came.”
Going into a care home doesn’t have to be a move that older people dread, it can be a positive experience. Recently at a forum hosted by The Henry Smith Charity we talked about how to make the move into a care home an experience that older people look forward to in later life, rather than face with trepidation. There were lots of ideas suggested. Mine was that we ask care home residents to write a bucket list and see how many of those wishes we can help them achieve: seeing life in a care home as a time for new opportunities.
Any other ideas?
I've been to some interesting events and had some in depths conversations this last fortnight to really try and gain a broader and fuller picture when it comes to care homes. We hear so much negative press in the media about scandal after scandal, it's easy to get a distorted view. The reality is that there are thousands of dedicated care workers across the country making a huge difference in the lives of older people in care homes. Sadly they can feel tarnished with the same brush when abuse headlines hit the news. Many are paid less than supermarket assistants for this critical care giving role.
I was chatting to Julienne Meyer yesterday from My Home Life. I love their vision: "a world where all care homes for older people are great places to live, die, visit and work". They have a positive rather than punitive approach that promotes good practice. Their website is www.myhomelife.org.uk
So next time you read a shocking headline about care homes, yes, feel outraged by the injustice served on our vulnerable, frail elderly, and let it prompt you to action, like volunteering to make a difference, but also know that for every negative story there are hundreds of positive ones and be appreciative of all the committed carers who do look after our elderly population with such dedication.
Setting up a new charity has been a roller coaster ride, so I thought I'd share some of the experience, to help others going through the same process. The first hurdle was the complexity of answering a simple question: what comes first, the bank account or charity registration? We learnt the hard way - if you're establishing a CIO then it's the charity registration, no way round it - and allow PLENTY of time! Finding the right bank account is a minefield - no easy answers or advice there.
But then there are the highs - the day the charity registration number finally comes through and you feel like you're a legitimate organisation or the day you learn that your funding application has been successful. And (this may sound like a strange high, but bear with me) getting your first phone number. I can't commend Sipcentric enough. They have a special deal for charities and we had a new phone number in less than 24 hours of contacting them. Their customer service was exemplary. I knew nothing about online phone systems but they hand held me every step of the way.
Of course, there are other highs and lows along the way, but these are the ones that stand out
Yesterday I spoke at the St Stephens Monday fellowship to a wonderful group about the work of Embracing Age, the intrinsic value of older people and tips for growing older gracefully. I shared a comment one of our trustees made on Sunday: many people see old age as the winter of our lives, a time of barrenness and loss, when the leaves have fallen and the tree is bare.
But actually it is the autumn of our lives, a time of fruitfulness and rich colours.
I left them with a quote from Billy Graham in his 90's:
"Life is seldom easy as we grow older, but old age has its special joys – the joy of time with family and friends, the joy of freedom from responsibilities we once had, the joy of savouring the little things we once overlooked.
But most of all, as we learn to trust every day into His hands, the golden years can be a time of growing closer to Christ. And that is life’s greatest joy”.
It's so exciting to be able to start a new faith inspired charity for older people. We are at the beginning of our adventure and are looking forward to making a difference in the lives of older people. The name Embracing Age has a two fold meaning. It's about embracing frail older people with love and practical support, motivated by our Christian faith. But secondly it's about encouraging people to embrace getting older. I looked in the mirror one morning at all my grey hairs coming through, realising that it I tried to pluck out any more I'd be bald in no time! I decided that I was going to embrace ageing - let my grey hair be a symbol of having some experience of life under my belt, and that I'm older and hopefully wiser than I used to be. The future can be full of hope whatever age we are!