PLEASE NOTE THAT ST HILARY’S CARE HOME HAS NOW CLOSED
Dementia is a subject people rarely think about until it personally impacts upon them. So it was with me. It is only now that my parents have well advanced memory and communication problems that I am seeking and finding information about this progressive condition which, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, affects around hundreds of thousands of mainly elderly people. ‘Dementia’ is the set of symptoms affecting reasoning, and mood, among other things, which may have various causes. My mother, for example, has had nearly ten years of vascular dementia caused by problems of blood supply to the vein, commonly caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, or strokes. Alzheimer’s is the most common problem affecting around 496,000 people in the UK. The scale of the problem is really quite scary, especially once people reach their eighties where 1 in 6 of people, already vulnerable because of other infirmities, are affected. 31% of the population, according to a 2011 NHS study, fear dementia more than death or dying. Not surprising in a country which has over 750,000 dementia sufferers, yet to keep some perspective, it equates to 170 people per thousand aged 80 or above, meaning 830 octogenarians per thousand will not suffer it!
So, if you have a family member with dementia, it is likely, at some stage that residential care may be needed. It therefore was helpful to me to check out St Hilary’s in Bude, to see the quality of care available these days (having been terrified by my own experiences working in a care home as a student in the late 1970s).
One the first things you notice about St Hilary’s is that it is light and airy inside doesn’t smell of urine. Why would it? Well, that’s how care homes unfortunately used to be, an unpleasant memory which St Hilary’s quickly managed to dispel. Thankfully, St Hilary’s is a shining example of how a ‘home from home’ can be created for people suffering chronic age-related conditions like dementia rather than a regimented, one size fits all, seemingly uncaring approach like that home I worked at in Birmingham back then.
Lisa O’Shea has managed the home since August 2010, having worked for Cornwall Care Group (which owns the home) since 1993. She was one of the first of their staff to achieve a Foundation Degree in Health Care Practice, and her professionalism and caring nature both shine through.
St Hilary’s has 37 clients, with high levels of dementia at varying scales. Clients, when i visited, were mainly in their 80s, with the oldest 97, a vulnerable group whom society tends to make invisible. Lots of families struggle for many years with dementia, which is a distressing condition, so it is a really tough decision for families to opt for a residential home for their loved ones. Lisa explains how important it is, therefore, for the staff to know their clients well: ”No matter how old you are, people still want choices” she explained “which is part of treating people with basic human respect. Dementia is very frustrating for the sufferer because it can impact upon communication, so it important to find out a client’s life story/history which means we do really in-depth initial assessments. Sometimes, it is the little things which make all the difference, so we talk to people as we are doing our tasks, and sometimes clients like to chat and help us with things like laying the table. It isn’t just the big issues which concern us, but the little touches. Does someone like bubble bath? If so, what perfumes do they prefer? We have one gentleman who never goes anywhere without a clean hanky. It is important to him to have it with him so we need to get the small details right”. Before a client enters St Hilary’s, they are assessed at home to try to find out more about who they are as a person. The rooms are small, and do not have ensuite bathrooms but clients can personalize their rooms with their own possessions, which is also really important.
The home has various facilities such as Steph, a foot health care professional who comes in to treat the clients, Linda, a hairdresser who tends their tresses, and they also have a day care centre open Mon and Thurs which people living at home can attend, as well as residents.
There are still lots of negative stereotypes about elderly people, and a perception that homes are places where people are shut away out of the way. We hear news about homes which fail to meet standards of care but rarely about places like St Hilary’s which make people’s lives better in very specific ways. Summed up far better than anything I can write was a letter from Shirley Penton of Bude, who wrote about her Mum’s care at St Hilary’s. Shirley kindly gave permission for us to reproduce this here:
“People are so quick to criticize and complain, but rarely praise, when praise is due. My mother has dementia and for the past few months has made her home at St Hilary’s. I say home, because that is what it is, in the real sense. Our lives have changed significantly. Before she went to St Hilary’s, her mobility was poor, she had hallucinations day and night, sometimes not knowing who or where she was. In fact, life was hell for both of us.The change in her, in just three months, is amazing. She is stimulated, can hold a conversation and her mobility has improved dramatically. I have nothing but praise for all the staff. They are wonderful. Nothing is too much trouble for them. They’re fun, caring, and always there when someone needs a cuddle; they do a very difficult job with a smile. In some care homes, residents just sit, looking bored; this is quite the opposite at St Hilary’s where residents are encouraged to do things be it art and craft, making cakes, face painting, etc. They have fun and that is what life is all about, even when you’re old. If the time comes when I need to go into residential care, I hope it is St Hilary’s. Well done to all of you. I think you’re amazing. Thanks to you, my mother is cared for, is well and happy and I have my life back. For this, I thank you so much”.
My tour of St Hilary’s bore out Shirley’s comments. Being cared for in a stimulating environment, and enjoying conversation, is vital for people with dementia who are often socially isolated. I see the change in my own parents both of whom suffer dementia. They come alive in company. At St Hilary’s, no one is stuck in a chair or their bedroom. Indeed, there is a ‘roaming’ policy which means there are safe level areas for people to wander around, providing more freedom and opportunities for social interaction. There are also garden areas for sunny days, with handrails, benches and with plenty of bird feeders to encourage the wildlife. The home also has lots of communal days (there was a celebration for the Royal Wedding, for example) and some outings. One client, with a twinkle in her eye told me, when I asked the name of the budgie, that he is called Becks after David Beckham, the footballer.
As the Government has brought dementia and elder care to the forefront of discussion, Cornwall Care seems to have been ahead of trend in its policies. St Hilary’s has a reassuring open door policy so relatives can visit at any time of day or night (although prior warning after 10pm is needed for security reasons) and there are no set visiting times. Families sometimes go in to have meals there with their relatives, and clients are given a special birthday tea on their big day. Such care, alas, does not come cheap and cost is based on client need, so for many older people their savings and homes are used to provide a high level of care when they need it. The home uses a red, amber, green assessment depending on levels of care needed but the baseline fee starts at £510 per week based around 1.5 hours of one to one care daily plus all the other advantages of living in a stimulating environment. The care package is tailored to meet client need. Lisa is happy to discuss ways of obtaining financial help for clients who cannot afford the fees and for some, help from social services or charitable trusts may be available.
Life as a carer for a parent with dementia is hard. It is emotionally and physically distressing, so it is indeed a bonus for Bude that, when it is needed, dementia sufferers and their families have other options, such as st Hilary’s, available.