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Our blog features real-life stories from those living, dying, working and visiting care homes across the UK. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, get in touch: mhl@city.ac.uk

A networking day in our care home

Our home held an older persons services information drop in afternoon in which we invited in local organisations and support groups to discuss services available to older people in the area and opened the event to members of the public.
We held the event in our home to provide a relaxed, comfortable space for people to come in and seek advice.
Representatives from the Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, Care and Connect North Tyneside, Equal Arts, and the North Tyneside Carers Centre met with guests to discuss their services and the help, advice and support available in the area.

Why did you decide to hold the event?

We thought that this would be a great way to connect with organisations relevant to our residents and their families and friends, as well as provide the opportunity to showcase the works of Older Persons advice, support and social groups in the area and help inform local people of the resources and support available and equip them with the knowledge of where to go for help and further information. The open day also offered a networking opportunity for local older persons groups, as well as older people living in the area.

What was the impact on the professionals/residents and staff?

Following the event we received an email with some lovely comments about the event and the home from the Chairman of North Tyneside. The staff were very proud.

We also had some new visitors from a neighbouring sheltered accommodation complex who said they’d like to come along to our weekly coffee morning and future events which is great for our residents who like to make new friends.

What have you learnt about the power of community engagement?

As care homes we often think about how getting involved in the community can benefit our residents and our home but we also have so much to offer our communities too. As part of day-to-day life we form many close relationships and networks in our area, from our visiting healthcare professionals, to local suppliers, to our local authority, to community groups and churches involved in our activity provision.

We can use our connections and shared knowledge to help benefit people living locally and better our communities as a whole.

Thank you to Joanne Rossiter, Maria Mallaband & Countrywide Care Homes.

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Moving to a care home – what matters to you?

I remember talking to one of our prospective residents at one of our care homes telling me about her “life of ever decreasing boxes” as she put it.

From a large family property to a downsized house once her children had left home, then to a small warden controlled flat and now to one room in a care home.  The prospect was not an attractive one – she then mentioned her final box as she departed for where ever we go next!  Whilst she was not sad about this it did carry some pathos and one we care home owners must heed in how it feels to come into 24/7 care, ‘when the time is right’, as I am prone to say.

We have just marked National Dignity Day on the 1st February in our homes with some really relevant, entertaining and powerful points being made by residents, staff and visitors.  The words mentioned in our conversations included Choice, Privacy, Respect, Rights, Control and Empowerment, and all of these we feel can be regarded as key messages underpinning how we ensure that the ‘inner sanctum’ of a residents bedroom looks and feels just right for the person moving in.

I believe it is one example of how partnerships between the person moving in, their families and their loved ones working with us must combine wants and needs to create a familiar, safe and idiosyncratic expression of who they are with perhaps treasured memories and possessions.  We will always encourage people to bring special items of furniture (if space permits), photographs and ornaments too.  Colour and clutter we like, with a principle of being age appropriate as well as risk free being considerations of course.

The point about space can be an issue; in our older homes we don’t have standardised room sizes – we will always argue that homely homes need character and without these variations we teeter on institutionalised care in purpose built units often designed for upward of 60 residents – which I will always be sceptical in terms of how homely these industrial style care settings can be. The balance between what a person is used to needs in later life may also need special consideration. The combination of homely versus perhaps a swish hotel like environment and the impact these can have on comfort and atmosphere is also important to discuss.  We will always aspire to balance appropriate expectations with the views of others, crucially to get their new home right for the person now living with us.

When a person is coming into a care home to live we want to see it as just that – a place to live.

Some of our folk prefer to spend lots of time in their room watching TV, reading, doing puzzles, resting, or entertaining as many do – others will leave their bedroom early in the morning and return late at night after a day spent in communal areas busying in a more social way.  You may see some rather spartan rooms as much as those full of reminiscent relics of a full and adventurous lives.  Much of this will come down to how able families are to help provide content for their loved ones.  Our part is to do all we can to encourage personalised rooms befitting the person staying with us.  We must also recognise changing needs including how we store essential items like creams, toiletries and, for many, personal care items such as continence pads for those that need them – dignity must always be protected – we must also take account of mobility aids and potential needs changing such as when a high low bed may be required for assistance getting in and out of bed if a person becomes less able.

Overall the transition from a person’s own private home to a shared environment of a care home has a huge emotional impact on all involved.

Moving to a care home is often an unplanned event following a hospital admission or after health care decline or event. Older people should be open to this possibility, we would claim, and families too.  Moving into a dynamic, progressive, safe and fun care home when the time is right is something should be something we look forward to!

Many thanks to George Coxon, Care Home Owner – Pottles Court and Summercourt, Devon.

 

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Connecting a care home and a school

Opening Doors.

Sometimes you have those moments in your work that really affirm why you do what you do.  Those moments that really touch and stay with you; when you realise you are making a difference to people’s lives, even if in a very small way.

At Alive!, my work involves bringing older and younger people together.  It’s about opening doors, opening care homes to the wider community, allowing connection and communication across the generations.  Our elders have so much to give and share; their opinions, their joy, their experiences, sometimes their sorrow.  As a society we have a tendency to exclude our elders.  We wrongly assume once they reach a certain age, or a stage on their dementia journey they have nothing to give – or are unable to give.  We can close them off, almost shut them away and stop listening.

But bringing old and young together through Intergenerational School Projects has been a positive way of beginning to break down these barriers; of opening up understanding between the generations; of bringing community in to share with elders and enabling older people to show their talents and be cherished. Through our intergenerational Project “Paint Pals”, we have been linking up schools and care homes to exchange paintings and to meet up to paint together over an academic year.

One of my new projects this year has been between a school and care home in Bristol. The school and care home are neighbours and share a fence – whoever built it actually put a gate in between them, but it has stayed locked, – until now.

Watching the children involved in this Paint Pals project come through the opened gate from their school to the care home, to spend an hour painting with the elders was one of my “magic moments”.

Seeing the gate finally being opened and the smiles on the children’s and elders faces on meeting their Paint Pals, witnessing their small moments of connection.  The eye contact, the smile, the touch of a hand.  The word of encouragement from old and young, the admiration and sharing of each other’s work. Sometimes just being together in silence, being in the moment, engrossed in their paintings. 

It’s just a start. A small start.  The children and elders will continue to meet up and share this year.  But we need more moments like this, in more care homes and schools to ensure more gates will be unlocked and old and young can come together and connect in such a positive, meaningful and creative way.

Many thanks to Isobel Jones Business Development Manager, Alive!

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Care Homes in our Communities

“Our residents do not live in our work place, we work in their home.”

I have been sharing this quote from a care home worker and thinking about it a lot over the last few weeks.

I feel very honoured as part of our ‘You Can Make a Difference’ Campaign and tour across the country to spend most days speaking to staff in hospitals, hospices and care homes, or our next generation of healthcare professionals in colleges or universities.

So often I travel home feeling inspired by the people that I’ve met and pledges that we’ve received.

The quote made me reflect on the way that residential care is often thought about, both in terms of the people who live there and the staff who work there.

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Communities are in our hearts, we are the heart of our communities and our homes are at the heart of our community and relationships. This isn’t something that should change when we start live in a care home, after all, as the quote points out – this is our home now.

If we want to create friendly and supportive communities we have to include care homes, the people who live and the people who work there. If we are going to ask people ‘what and who matters to you?’, let’s make sure we ask the people living and working in care homes too.

What can you and I do to help change perceptions, and make sure that people living in residential care remain at the heart of our communities?

For my part, a big focus of my work through the Dementia Carer Voices project has been about highlighting the unique life stories of people living with dementia and their carers, and celebrating the role of the staff that make a real difference to their lives.

“Our residents don’t live in our work place, we work in their home”. In fact, our residents don’t just live in our care homes, they live in our communities and we can all play a part in supporting them to live well and stay included.

Thank you to Tommy Whitelaw, Project Engagment Lead at Dementia Carer Voices.

 

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Lucky Stars- collecting wishes for 2017

Hallmark Care Homes told us about their Christmas Lucky Star competition which encourages residents to make a wish for the coming year, write it on a star and place it on the Christmas tree. It helps to plan for community engagement and promotes positive relationships in the homes.

We ask each resident if there is anything they would like as a gift from us in the New Year or if there is anything they would like to do as an activity inside or outside of the home or with their family? We also have a nominated fairy godmother from each home who will dress up and gather the wishes.

We want to give the opportunity to all of our residents to make a wish, but also understand that not every resident will want to make a wish and not every resident can vocalise their wish. We include our resident’s families to determine what it is they may like and look over their past history and hobbies. This is something we did at Admiral Court, our care home in Leigh on Sea last year. We hosted a classic car show at the home after learning from the care team that the resident used to own three supercars when he was younger. The classic car show was attended by over 100 people, funds raised on the day were donated to charity and the resident was brought to tears upon seeing the Ferrari California and Rolls Royce, which we brought into the home’s car park.

lucky-starLucky Star has had a tremendous impact on our residents with lots of tears of happiness and laughter shared. The relatives have also been extremely grateful, joining in with the planned activities which has  enhanced our relationships with them.

Wishes fulfilled last year included:

Reuniting a resident with his teenage sweetheart after 20 years apart. Taking a resident to the Ritz with her family by limousine so she could celebrate her 95th birthday and taking a resident to watch Peter Andre in concert and meeting him after the show.

Smaller wishes granted included giving a bouquet of flowers to a resident’s wife who visits him in the home every day, and taking a resident to the local garden centre for afternoon tea.

Thank you to Verity Prentice, Hallmark Care Homes for sharing this lovely idea for collecting residents wishes for 2017! http://www.hallmarkcarehomes.co.uk/

 

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Listening is a real gift at Christmas

Really engaged communication can light up a room anywhere and care homes are no different. For many people living in them, especially if they have dementia, this time of year may prompt memories of times past – after all, they have experienced quite a few! Sharing the stories matters to both the teller and the listener because it helps support good care. But it’s not always so easy, so here are some simple techniques to get started…

Creating a theme
With their long-term memory intact for many years, given a little time, older people living with more advanced dementia can tell surprising stories about Christmas past. Of course, not everyone may want to remember, but themes such as ‘my best Christmas ever’, ‘my favourite Christmas food’, ‘Christmas carols I always enjoy singing’, or ‘my favourite person at Christmas’ can prompt fun conversations.

Suggestions for the theme
Offering up a few ideas related to the theme before inviting the other person to join in, gives them time to recall their own Christmas memories. For example, you might begin by prompting cheerful sensory associations, like the tree with its lights and sparkly decorations; church carol services or pantomimes; the smell of Christmas pudding, or the taste of roast potatoes. Anticipation is an important part of Christmas for a young person, like the exciting rustle of a full stocking on the bedcovers at the crack of Christmas dawn…

An easy starter recipe
A great conversation starter is “Tell me about… (just add whatever you want to know about). If your interest is genuine, the other person will usually respond well with a personal story.

I asked one man to tell me about toys at Christmas. He told me, “I came from a large family in Liverpool and we were very poor. I have no memories of toys at all, but we used to play with kindling wood and every other type of wood scrap. You could keep yourself amused for hours making different things – and with a penknife, almost anything was possible.” christmas-kindle

Financial poverty such as this might be hard to imagine today, even if being able to make things with a penknife would have brought its own pleasures. Right at the end, he added, “Recently my 12-year old step grand-daughter bought me a wonderful teddy bear. It’s the only one I’ve ever owned…” Insights into a person’s life like this, connects us across the generations.

Real communication is what all of us crave – when we share and someone listens well, it shows us that we matter, it is the lynch-pin of good care and what’s more, it has the power to make Christmas really special.

Thank you to Sarah Reed, Dementia Communication Specialist and Author of Many Happy Returns Chatterbox Cards.

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Care Home Manager Blog – Good care never makes the news.

Grainne Wokes a care home manager in Buckinghamshire tells us how she keeps going despite the negative representation of care homes in the media.

The life of a care home manager can be a lonely one. Whether it’s answering the questions of internal or external regulators, answering emails, conducting audits, developing action plans, we are also held accountable for the actions of our staff – after all we are responsible for their well-being. We don’t have anyone else to turn too.

Everyone needs five minutes of my time. No one seems concerned about my work life balance, breaks during the day or our work load. Add to that the on call element of the role meaning calls in the middle of the night and my family often disturbed.

I am a registered nurse, with an honours degree and a range of other formal qualifications. Nurses are often held to a higher account than anyone else in a care home but other disciplines see us as lacking knowledge and care homes are seen as a “Cinderella service.”

But, this is the important bit, I do it every single day. I turn up, regardless of how I feel. I work long hours, I give everyone the five minutes that they need.

Care Home Managers ensure care homes continue to provide safety to vulnerable members of our society, we offer them our time, care and respect. Our residents, they are the reason we are in the job!

Care homes don’t get represented well in the press. I once heard a comment on a radio station that good care should not make the news. But for those working in care, those amazing staff who dedicate their lives to supporting others, how do you think this makes us feel? We want to be able to spread the news for our work by sharing the good practice we encourage others.

Thank you Grainne, care home manager – Hillside Nursing Home, Buckinghamshire for sharing your thoughts.

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Clear Lines of Communication

Imagine my concerns when during a monthly team meeting it became apparent that my team felt that their ideas and worries were not acted on.

The process we had in place to collect staff views was to feed them into the melting pot at staff meetings. But it became was clear to me only things that we had time to pick up or deemed as urgent were being actioned. On day two of the My Home Life Leadership Programme we learnt of the six sense framework, it made me think about how my team must have been feeling about their wishes and concerns not being acknowledged.

I said to myself, “Sarah, what does a deputy manager do?” I needed to give a clear structure to capturing staff comments and to have a team that knew who to report to and receive feedback from.

sarah-bucks

We have captured fantastic ideas such as care assistants with hobbies that can be transferred into activities and new ways of working to steer away from task orientated days. Another great aspect of this is that these lines of communication have become our supervision lines.

Overall this has allowed us to become more relationship centred as a home and united as a team, who are passionate, caring and devoted to the resident and service we provide! Creating a visual tool for colleagues to appreciate the structure and flow of our home and support system has helped everyone.

As a bonus it also acts as clear evidence that inspectors and support services look for when entering our residents home.

Many thanks to Sarah Clarke Deputy Home Manager, Buckinghamshire for sharing her experience with us.

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Involving residents in staff recruitment

Kindness is the most important attribute.

We recently advertised a new post for an Activities Coordinator. One of our residents, Bella Watkins was asked if she would like to sit on the interview panel, she was delighted to be asked and agreed straight away!

Bella received a copy of the interview questions prior to the interview, she gave them back to us stating the font was too small! So we changed them to suit her needs.Capture

The evening prior to the interview, Bella asked staff to help her choose her ‘power clothes’ for the interview and spoke with the staff informing them exactly what she was looking for in a candidate. Kindness was the most important attribute she told us.

Bella was up at 7am on the day of the interviews, she instructed the staff on the style she wanted her hair. An additional member of care staff assisted Bella getting dressed whilst another attended to her make-up and choice of scent. After the ‘team’ had worked on Bella she was ready, confident and prepared!

When the interview started Bella asked the candidates about their intentions for activities in the home, she told them what she liked to do during the day and her expectations of them. ‘We don’t just want War music and Bingo” she said.

The successful candidate told us afterwards that it was great to be given the opportunity to ask at interview what activities the residents would like to take part in. She looked forward to working with Bella to plan and facilitate activities.

This experience enabled Bella to be a part of the decision process within her home and enable her to have a voice. Bella commented, “I’ve always been a good judge of character” She certainly is!

Thank you to Nathan Corfield, Spring Gardens Residential Home.

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Improving quality of life – a relative’s story

mary-and-aunt-1I saw my Aunt’s frown disappear!

Around five years after my aunt was diagnosed with dementia, I gave the social worker the go-ahead to look for a care home, he told me about a very good one, fairly local to where my aunt was living and run by the faith community that she was an active member of.

We were invited for a visit and to have lunch at the care home and on the day my aunt was made to feel very welcomed and very special. She got to try out the hair salon, we had lunch with home manager and we took part in some of the afternoon’s activities. I saw my aunt enjoy herself and be so obviously stimulated in a way that was not happening day-to-day. The warmth of the staff gave me some reassurance, but best of all I saw my aunt’s frown disappear for the first time in ages. She just glowed! As far as I was concerned there was no question about my aunt staying there – the transformation in her in that short period was remarkable.

She had gone from being dispirited and often withdrawn to being far more conversational, stimulated and engaging. She had already started to charm many of the staff with her cheerful, kind and thoughtful nature.

I maintained my visiting routines as I had done whilst she was at home, we carried on talking about the things we always talked about and I made sure that her room was filled up with lots of familiar things.

In the last few months of her life when she was barely eating, the staff would sit patiently with her for as long as it took to with a few spoons of custard and cake. The looked after her and met her every need without hesitation and always made me feel welcome and included in her care. I was always contacted in a timely manner when there were any concerns and whenever I visited I was given all her paperwork to read through and discuss.

On the day that my aunt died, I was called to be with her, her last hours were peaceful and dignified. When she died in my arms the staff came to pay their respects and attended to her body with great care. I was given the office phone to call relatives around the world. As many as could came to her funeral and they all came to prayers and tea at the care home afterwards.

I will never be able to thank the staff at that care home for all they did to make my aunt’s last 16 months so fulfilled.

Thank you to Mary Hardcastle for sharing your story.

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Our Blog

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"A networking day in our care home"

Our home held an older persons services information drop in afternoon in which we invited in local organisations and support groups to discuss services available to older people in the area and opened the event to members of the public. We held the event in our home to provide a relaxed, comfortable space for people […]

read more

"Moving to a care home – what matters to you?"

I remember talking to one of our prospective residents at one of our care homes telling me about her “life of ever decreasing boxes” as she put it. From a large family property to a downsized house once her children had left home, then to a small warden controlled flat and now to one room […]

read more

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