Care Home CEO shares his experience with Alzheimer’s and dementia

We all need to learn from people suffering from Alzheimer’s and try to change our approach and respect and accept who they are today.

“We all need to learn from people suffering from Alzheimer’s and try to change our approach and respect and accept who they are today. We need to embrace their journey. The challenge is trying not to compare them with who they were before Alzheimer’s became a part of their lives. They are still themselves, just a different version of themselves” is how the owner of a Nottinghamshire-based care home group encourages families coming to terms with a loved one living with dementia.

As part of Alzheimer’s Month this month and World Alzheimer’s Day falling on Thursday, 21st September, Roger Daniel, Chief Executive Officer at Red Homes Healthcare Group, hopes to help families as they start to see changes in their loved ones.

It is a fear that is felt across the world as revealed in an Alzheimer’s Disease International survey of 70,000 people – which found 35% of carers across the world said that they have hidden the diagnosis of dementia of a family member.

“They are going to become a different version of themselves. Someone might display actions and emotions from the past, even their childhood, or someone who never used bad language, might suddenly start using unfamiliar language you would not associate with their past.

A daughter or son might say this is not my mum, but this is their mum with Alzheimer’s, we need to learn to love and accept the journey they are on, try not to get upset or cross . Those who cope the best are those who go with their loved ones on their journey. It is not easy. It can be really tough and there will be tough days. But this is a life living with Alzheimer’s.

The more we ‘go with it’, I promise, the happier that journey is going to be. If we fight it, the more difficult that journey is going to be.”

– Roger Daniel, CEO of Red Homes Healthcare

Mr Daniel, who is a qualified solicitor with an NVQ5 in Care management, is also keen to dispel common misconceptions about care homes. ‘They will have no quality of life’ and ‘They won’t recognise me’ are just some of the conversations heard between the public upon hearing the words Alzheimer’s or dementia.

People have visions of older grandmothers, grandads, mothers and fathers sitting, soulless and alone, in their chair staring at a wall. This thought conjures up fear and despair among families.

However, a visit to good dementia centres and excellent care homes across the country will put people’s minds at rest.

They will find they are not sitting alone (unless they choose to take a moment to themselves); they are not staring at a wall for hours on end.

Mr Daniel continues:

“We sometimes see in the media out-dated perception around care homes. The best homes today are the ones that create a fluid and loving home from home environment that allows everyone to keep their sense of individualism, dignity and freedom.

You only see on the media challenging stories around neglect and abuse. Stories such as these are terrible and those homes and staff need to be called out. But it’s a fragment of what really goes on. Come into most care homes and you will see the genuine love and commitment from every member of staff – and the genuine love and trust between our lovely people and staff and families. At Red Homes’ we, like many care homes, are one big family.”

He added:

“We also need to think about the language we use when talking about dementia and care homes. We should try to stop thinking of it as ‘putting them’ (in a care home)’, it is rather helping them move house to a safer more stimulating environment, with good interaction from people who are trained and dedicated to support with their changing needs. Instead of paying carers to come into their home, they are going to a new home, that is safer and where they will feel more secure and can access the right care.”

Red Homes is trying to change the narrative on popular perceptions of care homes and their community who are living with dementia. As well as extensive training part of Red Homes CPD is all about setting the expectations high. As Roger explains.

“The way every member of staff thinks and behaves is so important to the overall feel of our homes. We have high aspirations for our lovely people and our staff. It’s about the little things as well as ticking off a list of care-related courses. All of our staff are expected to provide a deep and meaningful feedback on a monthly basis. These reports are over and above the hourly and daily reports. They require real knowledge of our ladies and gentlemen, not just their medication and basic care requirements. We need to know their life history and we need to know all the little details of today – right down to which hand a resident prefers to have their fork in, and then what kind of fork. It is in the tiny detail where we can make their day more comfortable and enjoyable.”

Mr Daniel adds that it is fundamentally about creating strong relationships and embracing a collaborative approach.

It is a real community effort at care homes across the UK, from falls team advising safety; nurses and GPs from the community team visiting often, strong links with social services and CQC.

As well as the 62-bed Red Rose, Red Court (Grantham) and Red Roofs (Newark) are also part of the Red Homes family, each catering for its community’s individual needs.

A typical day at Red Rose involves a fun-packed timetable of social events and activities that stimulate and support their community such as baking, gardening, jewellery making, crochet, croquet, bowls and dog therapy. Importantly, these events are led by the interests of their fantastic people and so they change on a regular basis. For example, currently Red Rose has four or five ladies who are attached to their dolls.

Doll therapy is a wonderful, proven way of comforting some during what can be a confusing and frustrating time. In some cases, dolls can be used effectively to support those with dementia.

As Mr Daniel explains:

“The sight of wonderful people nestling a doll close to their chest is incredibly emotional as they sing songs of times gone by with a glint in their eye and a huge warm smile.

The sounds of Que Sera Sera and Cliff Richard’s Congratulations filling the air while they tend to their newborns is magical to observe.

They are just some of the ways that people living with dementia can better enjoy their days.”

Mr Daniel continues:

“Some of our people are coming in with certain needs to connect to something physical, they want to sit and hold hands. They naturally find a physically connection, and this makes them feel well and happy, and we encourage that in a safe and nurturing space.”

It is not just dolls which can lighten the lives of the community Red Rose’s very own Tangerine Man, Mark Isles, keeps coming back to the home with a bag of delicious tangerines much to the people’s joy.

Army veteran Mark visits Red Rose even after the passing of his beloved mum Pamela in April. It is the care the home provided to his mother, a talented artist, in her last two years that keeps Mark returning each week.

Mark said:

“My mum had a wonderful time here at Red Rose times here. She settled in quickly. I did my best but I just couldn’t have looked after her much more than I was, something would have happened, she would have fallen or something so I was glad, relieved when she came here. I was worried at first. But they were great – they even got my mother walking again so I soon realised it was the right thing to do.”

Pamela was so loved by her friends and staff at Red Rose that they hung her amazing artwork as pride of place in the centre.

Even after Pamela’s passing, Mark still returns to Red Rose, with a bag full of tangerines for the ladies and gentlemen.

He added:

“It started as a one-off giving them a tangerine and they seemed to appreciate it. One lady never used to smile – she used to tell me to go away with the tangerines. Now, I come in and she says ‘oh thank you very much so that is nice to see and shows how much it means.”

Red Homes staff don’t always follow a typical career path. Dawn Brayshaw, a total ray of sunshine in Red Rose with the official title of ‘social support’ actually started her career as a cleaner. But Dawn’s genuine love and care for her community and sunshiny nature made it clear that she was perfect to help keep them entertained.

Her smiling face, enthusiastic and caring nature, not to mention her dulcet tones is infectious. She just has a magical way of putting a smile on faces as she dances or bakes or plays balloon tennis with her excited audience.

It is an emotional scene as the people enjoy singing along or just listening to their much-loved songs of the past.

As Mr Daniel says a diagnosis of dementia is just a new journey they are starting, and their lives can still be full of joy and laughter – even if they may not quite be the person they were before.

As part of Alzheimer’s Month, the Red Homes Healthcare group, is raising awareness across its homes and further afield of the important of communication. How can staff help families coming to terms with their loved ones dementia journey. How can families look at things differently. And how can we all change the way we think and feel around this subject.

Roger and his staff are united in their desire to keep coming up with ideas to improve their much loved community’s quality of life and their families’ actions and reactions to their different stages of their journey. His last piece of advice is for those struggling with the idea of care homes is to go and visit one that has a good reputation in their area and go and talk to their staff and also their families, if not their loved ones, to gain a fresh perspective and some positive advice.

As Mr Daniel closes:

“We often leave it too late to find the right home for our loved ones because we feel we should do more or that we’ve given up on them. The truth is the sooner they have the right care and the right environment their days become lighter and happier. But it is important to go and see for yourself and ensure you can communicate openly and freely to the manager and their staff. It’s always about communication.

Some of the best time I spend is talking to our people or their families – although I read a care plan today, written by a fairly new member of staff just starting her vocation. And wow, the level of detail in that report brought a tear to my eye. That’s what keeps me doing what I’m doing. She made my day and that’s because I know she has taken the time to know and really understand the person in her care. What a privilege and a joy to be working with staff of such quality and delivering care to the people and families that we love.”

Some illuminating facts to consider from Alzheimer’s Disease International

  • By 2050, estimated 139 million people will be living with dementia worldwide.
  • 62% of healthcare professionals wrongly believe that dementia is a normal part of aging
  • Dementia is the 7th leading cause of death globally and in an increasing number of countries, the leading cause of death
  • Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds
  • There are over 55 million people around the world living with dementia
  • The number of people living with dementia is predicted to rise sharply to 1.6 million by 2050 in the UK ~ 1 million Britons will be suffering with dementia by 2030

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