As part of the Activity & Wellbeing theme, Verity Monaghan shares her experiences in care homes of the little and large ways care homes are making a positive difference to residents' lives
A quick background to my role – my name is Verity Monaghan. I am the policy and human rights project worker for the Rights Made Real in Care Homes Project. This project is kindly funded by Life Changes Trust with the overall aim of changing cultures within care homes and making human rights relatable and real to those living in care homes throughout Scotland. Scottish Care has partnered with the University of West of Scotland to make this a reality. There are currently 7 groups of care homes involved from all over Scotland, all with unique projects from music interventions to the building and creating of a sensory garden. Locally, the projects are partnering with universities, whilst some have input from colleagues within the NHS and local health and social care partnerships.
When I was asked to write this blog, I started to think about what was important to me and what activities I enjoy doing that help to keep me happy and balanced. The ones that came to mind were my daily coffee fixes, listening to music, having time alone but also ironically being around people and getting out and about. Not a day goes by where I don’t get the opportunity to do these things (ok well maybe not working out every day) and that shouldn’t be any different for those living within a care home. I thought this would be a fabulous opportunity to celebrate some of the great work in keeping people happy and healthy that I came across during my visits with the care homes.
The term “Dementia” is often associated and consumed by a focus on fear of the unknown, loss and decline. People have an idea that when you develop Dementia that your life is over. However, there are always ways to enjoy life and activities that the person can feel pleasure from. Some things do change for people depending on the type of Dementia they develop, like their sense of smell, their taste, their perception of time, their speech or a general change in emotions. Although people will undergo changes and declines in various cognitive and physical abilities, several aspects of well-being do not change to the same extent. Some of these are: the need for care and compassion, the ability to reminisce, feeling secure and safe, socialising and connecting with friends/family.
The magic of music
One thing that people with Dementia often find is that their ability to identify and relate to rhythm and music doesn’t change much. Music can be an extremely calming and soothing force. Listening to music releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with feelings of pleasure. It therefore makes sense that music is a worthwhile pursuit for those living with Dementia, especially those who enjoyed music throughout their lives.
Anderson’s Care Home is working in partnership with researchers from the School of Innovation from the Glasgow School of Art in Elgin and are having great success in bringing the local community and Anderson’s Care Home together using different music interventions both inside and outside of the care home. The overall goal is to help residents to develop their personal identity, quality of life and holistic wellbeing. There has been a series of workshops coupled with personal, group and community-based music sessions. The researchers explored how music could be used as a tool to build relationships with residents, understand what is important to them and hear their stories. They asked about what songs were important to them and then these songs were then used to help connect the resident with their memory in the future and also in the group sessions to connect with family/friends/staff/other resident’s. These songs will eventually create an Anderson’s Playlist. Moving forward with the project there will be a 3-day gala in August with different music interventions and activities, such as a local high school coming in to help create instruments and then using these instruments to create music together. These activities will be tried and tested with the hope of developing a programme of activities that the residents enjoy.
Please visit this link to keep up to date with this innovative project.
Following on from this and thinking about how connecting with the local community and spending time with loved ones can positively affect people living with Dementia. I thought about the recent success of the garden party organised by the Royal Blind Society in their Jenny’s Well Care Home. It was a time where family, friends, staff and those in the local community gathered to laugh, connect and have some fun together. The residents helped on the day and there was live music, a BBQ, raffles, crafts and cake stalls…Yum! Not forgetting the dancing entertainment from Jump n Jive! This is what it is all about – connecting with others makes us feel happier and reduces feelings of isolation.
Some of the dancing enjoyed by residents in Jenny’s Well Care Home.
Although there are many benefits to activities in the community there is a need to help promote the “every day” activities that people with Dementia and those living within a care home participate in.
Dementia UK report that “Memory problems and the ability to co-ordinate and interpret the home environment can cause safety issues and frustration”. However, with proper risk assessments and competent and confident staff, residents can be supported to live life on their terms. On my first visit to Jenny’s Well Care Home as I was being shown around the rooms I met a lady helping to fold and organise the laundry with the domestic staff. This was this resident’s daily routine before moving into a care home environment and it was encouraging to see that the seemingly simple task of folding and putting away laundry helped to keep this lady balanced and happy.
Similarly, on a visit to Bankhall Care Home which is part of The Mungo Foundation, it was lovely to see that they have a snack station with teas/coffees/water/fruit juice and healthy snacks were freely available for residents to help themselves in the main lounge. The area is always supervised so that support can be given if it is needed. Since implementing this, staff reported that the fluid intake within the home had increased and residents enjoy having it and use the main lounge to socialise with each other over a cup of tea. This show how small subtle changes can make a difference.
We all want to live a life on our terms, and this looks different for everyone. This involves time, compassion and finding out what is important to people. Sometimes helping a person to feel fulfilled can involves accessing the community, listening to music, enjoying a good laugh or like many sometimes it can simply involve putting the kettle on and having a cup of coffee.
I would like to thank the resilient and passionate staff and managers that work in the care homes across Scotland building relationships, keeping people safe and healthy and lastly creating special memories and fulfilling people’s wishes on a daily basis.
Policy and Human Rights Worker, Scottish Care.