Whatever their level of dementia or state of health, the staff members make sure that their physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met.
“People don’t come to Glebe Court to die, they come here to live,” says Hilary the manager of a residential home run by The Salvation Army in London. “We want our residents to feel valued and know that, whatever happens, they can be themselves. They live with us until the end.”
Glebe Court has 27 residents aged between 66 and 99 years of age. Twenty two of them have dementia. Hilary explains that it is a complex illness.
“Dementia is a disease of the brain,” she says. “Like cancer, it can be a deteriorating, terminal illness, and there are also various forms of it. The way dementia manifests itself is dependent on a person’s character, so there could be two people with exactly the same type of dementia, but it could present itself in different ways. It really is a case of: When you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia. It can be easy to think that dementia is just about forgetting things, but it’s so much more than that. In some cases, the brain no longer sends messages to parts of the body, so a person may have food in their mouth but not know how to eat it. That’s a very advanced stage of the illness.”
When a resident comes to live at Glebe Court, whatever their level of dementia or state of health, the staff members make sure that their physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met. “Rather than plan an itinerary for every minute of the day, we try to find out what residents like to do,” says Hilary. “On some days the most significant activity for a resident might be taking a bath - and that should be a pleasurable experience for them. People don’t need to be busy all the time.”
An important activity - which has particular benefits for people with dementia - is reminiscing. Hilary says: “We’ve got a box which contains various household items from past decades, such as a mincer, an old can opener, a packet of old toilet paper and a bar of Sunlight soap. When residents handle these objects, they completely open up. Suddenly, they have seen an item that they recognise, and they feel confident to talk about it. The other good thing about reminiscing is that staff can use it gently to bring residents into the present. So if we are looking at the toilet paper, I might say: ‘Oh do you remember when toilet paper was like this? What we have today is a bit nicer isn’t it? How much would you have paid for that back then? You wouldn’t pay that these days!’ ”
A popular activity among female residents, though, is getting their hair and nails done. Hilary explains why this is important. “One of the basic needs of humankind is intimacy. People need to be touched. So when a member of staff gives a female resident a manicure, styles her hair or applies her make-up, they are saying to her: ‘You’re still worth doing this for.’ It lets the residents know that they have the right to feel good about themselves."
“It is also important for families to see that their relative is being looked after,” adds Sandra, the home’s chaplain. “When a family member sees that their mum is wearing a hair clip, for example, it shows them that a carer has taken the time to do that.”