Ordinary life is extraordinarily precious when someone we love is in a care home. It’s the little things that make life sweet for people in care homes, families and friends.
When Mum went into a lovely care home, we were both exhausted. I had stopped being a daughter and become a carer; ever on duty, an unpaid care-worker. The move was a relief. Mum is well cared for and happy and I was involved from the start in discussing her care and our family chose things for her room. It was wonderful to watch Mum make friends and build relationships with staff, she began to feel at home.
I’d got my Mum back, plus over the years I’ve acquired a host of other residents as honorary relatives. I was no longer Mum’s carer, I was her daughter and Mum was smiling and happy. When you love someone with dementia, that sense of getting the person back is very special.
My current caring role is less physical and more emotional and social. I do the family phone calls; birthday cards, photos and videos; I keep alive and share old and new family stories and songs. We’ve created a new way of being a family and new memories.
The care home staff have been critical. At the heart is an open and honest relationship. I can share (almost) any concerns and they will tell me almost immediately if Mum falls or gets ill. I can visit any time.
Little things help us retain and create a new sense of ordinary family life. I buy Mum’s clothes and arrange regular family chats and share photos. I visit at coffee time - my family does nothing without a cup of tea. When the family comes down, the manager gives us a big room and enough tea and biscuits to refresh an army. These are precious family times, when we are just ordinary people.
Caring is for life, it doesn’t start when we call ourselves a carer or end when someone we love goes into a care home or dies. Going into a care home can make it really hard to maintain a sense of connection to family and ordinary life. What makes it work? Care home staff involve me, we have an honest relationship, we talk. I trust them and Mum feels at home and is clearly happy because the staff show her they care.
The home enables us to keep doing the simple family things we have always done and show our love and mutual support in many small ways. At the biannual review we focus on our common cause - Mum’s health and happiness.
If everyone in a care home is to have a positive experience, we need a culture and practice which value relationships equally with physical care. We need to understand that relationships can be damaged by how care is delivered and transitions managed. Our relationships are precious and last beyond our lifetimes, we need to care for them.