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.
This is a guest blog from Leanne White
Whether we are old or young, when we are in a couple, we want to spend time together. As we grow old together, we become increasingly integrated into each other’s lives and being able to stay and live together as a couple is essential to maintain a good quality of life.
As we get older, we not only have specific needs ourselves, but our partner also has their own needs. It is not uncommon to then find that one partner essentially becomes the ‘carer’, often neglecting what their specific needs are, trying to carry out tasks and care for the other with no help. Often couples are split up – either within the same residential establishment or by going to different ones.
Ensuring that people are happy and comfortable in old age is vitally important and staying together as a couple can be central to this. However, there are also other reasons why endeavours should be made to keep elderly couples together.
It might be that one partner has trouble getting dressed or washed or just a little help is needed to stay on top of the housework. Daily visits can be organised, meaning that a care worker would come to the couple’s home, either for something specific or to generally help out with anything that it is needed.
Daily carers can carry out tasks such as administering medication (ensuring that medication doesn’t run out, doses are given accurately and that it’s not forgotten), cooking, going out or even just there for some company and moral support.
Daily visits are great for couples who are struggling a little, often with certain physical activities. It allows someone to come in a check that they are both ok and comfortable, but without someone being there all the time. Visits can be daily, a couple of times a week or they can even have a visit more than once a day, depending on needs.
Live in Care
If it gets to the stage where one or more of the couple needs more help than just a visit or two a day, live in care is a great option. With live-in care, a carer will stay with the couple in their home and be able to help with any needs that come up. This means that couples can stay together, without being moved to a strange environment – something that can be scary and confusing for many older people, especially if they are suffering from dementia.
This not only relieves the worry of family and friends that the elderly couple is ok, together, and well cared for, but also – and most importantly, can help to give them a quality of life without the pressures or responsibilities of caring for the other, and allows them to remain in the same home that they know and love.
Live in carers are carefully chosen to ensure that they get on well with the couple, as well as have the necessary technical knowledge and abilities to ensure that it really works for everyone. The familiarity of having someone who is always there can also be a bonus for live-in care.
Another option is 24-hour care. This means that instead of having a single person living with the couple, a team of workers work on a ‘relay’ basis, ensuring that someone is always there, but that its not always the same person.
24-hour care ensures that there is always someone there to attend any issues which might arise, giving peace of mind to families and ensuring the best quality of life for the couple.
This can be especially useful if one person or the couple have needs on a 24-hour basis.
Regardless of the situation, keeping couples together as they get older should be one of the main priorities to consider when one or both of them begin to need extra help. Fortunately, today there are more options that are available to people to help life-long partners really be life-long partners.
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.