Most visitors tend to spend only a short amount of time in care/nursing homes. Unless you work there, the chances are that after a couple of hours you’ll say your goodbyes and leave.
However, for residents, the day continues. Which is why daily activities, social interaction and sensory stimulation are crucial for mental/physical wellbeing. So, in order to experience what it’s like, encouraged by our founder Emily, I spent a fair few hours inside one care home. An undertaking that really opened my eyes to just how limited some people’s choices are.
Photo Credit: Pinterest Image
Most care homes have a fixed routine that both staff and residents are familiar with and the day starts fairly early. Breakfast is between 7 / 7.30 with all residents washed, and dressed shortly afterwards as they then make their way into the living room/social areas. For those on bed rest, the same routine applies but then their routine differs depending on their care plan. In the home I visited, I actually arrived after breakfast, and by then lots of the residents were up and about or watching television. Having packed my own lunch/snacks I decided not to eat on site.
Image: Vegan Breakfast Bowls
Why? Well, senior meal plans are carefully thought out and I’d hate the idea of there not being enough food for everyone – even though the pudding looked delicious!
So what did I do there, in this care home of choice all day long? Honestly, not a whole lot because the weather was quite chilly but no activities were on offer for the residents. Of course, I chatted to the others but as I wanted to experience what they were doing it was either watch TV or spend time twiddling my thumbs.
I desperately wanted to pick up a book, or even a magazine but no one else around me was reading. I found myself sitting watching show, after show and clock watching every so often while resisting the urge to play games on my phone. Luckily, the person I was sitting with had an iPad and lots of sensory toys. Even though I chose not to eat there, I was still counting the minutes until lunch arrived as I knew it would break up the day and give the residents something to do.
Image: Sensory Cushion: – Photo Credit – Gartons Field & Country
After lunch, which took time as spoon feeding someone on bed rest is tricky, I took a short break to enjoy my own food outside. It gave me some time to think about the morning’s events and the sheer lack of stimulation I had experienced. If I was getting bored now, what might it be like in the afternoon?
Despite government funding not every home has activities or even an activities manager so the residents and myself were left to our own devices. At one point I felt really thirsty, and casually drank some water without thinking about it. If I had been a resident on bedrest I couldn’t do that, instead, I’d actually have to wait until someone filled up my cup and then placed the straw between my lips. No wonder dementia patients are six times more likely to become dehydrated! You have to wait for someone to come to you just so you can have a simple drink – let alone anything else.
Image: Drinking cups: – Photo Credit- Kapitex
(More on assistance with drinking here.)
I’ll be 100% honest, the afternoon dragged and I really struggled to stay awake at times. Afternoon tea was served if you can call jam sandwiches and earl grey that. The room I was in felt cold, and as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon it dawned on me just how isolated this person really was. Later, a staff member came to inquire what the resident might like to have for tea. Soup seemed to be the preferred option although it was hard to tell because it didn’t seem like there was a list of other choices.
So I waited, and five minutes turned into ten, then ten became twenty and still no soup. If I was waiting for my tea, not having eaten much since lunch I’d be very hungry indeed! I almost felt like going into the kitchen and heating it up myself since it wasn’t appearing anytime soon. Emotionally, I felt frustrated, angry, hurt, sad and a little insulted – it wasn’t even my meal being prepared!
I knew the other residents, those not on bedrest, had already eaten and shouldn’t everyone have been served at the same time? It seems grossly unfair to someone, having to hear the endless sounds, and smells of everyone else having dinner without getting food themselves. Plates were carried, to and from the kitchen but no staff member looked around the room to see if the soup had arrived. Eventually, a staff member walked by and I felt forced, nay compelled to ask when exactly was this promised soup going to appear!
Image: Eating – Photo Credit: Raya’s Paradise
Just because someone’s on bedrest doesn’t mean you can ignore them, or worse fudge the details of a situation. Don’t forget dementia is a complex condition, for instance, someone may not remember being offered soup but they definitely know what it feels like to be really hungry, or left out.
We have no idea how much clarity is retained so who knows what thoughts are going through their mind? Personally, I felt so sorry for them, because while bedrest is necessary in some cases, deliberately misleading someone or waiting until the ‘easier’ diners have eaten is very unfair.
It felt a bit like ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and because this person’s room was separated from the main areas her needs weren’t being met straight away. As the departure time crept closer, I found myself counting the minutes and fighting a tension headache caused by watching too much television because there was nothing else to do!
Emotionally, it was exhausting. I felt completely drained even though the most exercise I’d done was go for a tiny walk at lunch, and paid a visit to the kitchen and bathroom. By 5.30 pm I saw staff starting to shepherd residents back out of the living room, and up the stairs to their bedrooms. I asked one resident how their day had been and the response was ‘oh very nice thank you’ and that made me wonder.
How many people are, essentially, repeating the same day over, and over again? How many care homes are lacking basic activities, or treating everyone the same regardless of their personal feelings?
An outstanding care home will discuss the following items with the new resident, and their family to make sure everyone is happy with the arrangements:
General likes and dislikes
Any medication they’re taking
Favourite activities, interests and hobbies
How they’d like to be helped by the staff on a day-to-day basis to maintain their dignity
What they like to eat and drink (and what they don’t)
Their sleep pattern
Sadly, where I spent the day I saw little of these being taken into consideration. Having lived one day of their everyday life I cannot understand how we, as a society, allow people to exist in such a monotonous state. Older people deserve opportunities too and no matter how unwell there’s always a way to put a smile on someone’s face!
To our readers: The home in question has been reported and is currently under investigation. If you see or hear about care which isn’t meeting the standards, please raise a safeguard And report to CQC. More on how to do this, here.