Friday, 9 August 2013

Marmalade or strawberry jam?

On Wednesday I attended a meeting at The Hollies Care Home where my mother resides.  There is a new manager at the home and she has entered the arena like a whirlwind.  Quite a number of staff have left and many changes are happening in the arrangements at the home.  Inevitably not everyone is happy about the changes and there has been some grumbling.  A lot of relatives came to the meeting and it was useful for us all to hear the plans for the next six months.

The new manager is keen to make the place as little like an institution and as much like a real home as possible.  For example she says that residents should be able to help themselves to a cup of tea whenever they like, and not have to wait for the trolley to arrive.  If they want a snack, they should be able to have a snack.  If they want to sit in the garden they can do so – and so on.

She has specific training and experience in working with sufferers of dementia and is keen to implement ideas to help stimulate and engage with dementia residents in a respectful and beneficial manner.  She gave a lovely example of how a slight change in approach can make a huge difference:
First scenario: a resident is given a piece of buttered toast.
Second scenario: a resident is given a piece of buttered toast and offered marmalade or strawberry jam on it.
Third scenario:  a resident is given a piece of buttered toast.  The carer takes the lids off the jars of jam and marmalade and offers them to the resident to look at and smell.  The smell of strawberries stimulates a memory and the resident talks with the carer about picking strawberries as a child.

I found this--and other similar examples--quite moving and inspiring.  I can imagine my mother remembering making marmalade and jam, and growing strawberries in her garden. We can all be so much more alive and aware if we stop filtering experience through our mental processes and open ourselves to the experiences of the sense fields.  Direct experience of strawberry jam through the sense of smell is so much more immediate and direct than the abstract question of whether you want it on your toast.

A sensory room has already been set up at the Hollies with a seaside theme.  Residents can sit in there and listen to sounds of the sea and of gulls; there is a sandpit with buckets and a spade; the floor covering looks like pebbles; and there is a large seaside scene that fills a whole wall. 

I am pleased that The Hollies has an enthusiastic and energetic manager with lots of ideas to improve the home.  It will be interesting to see what other changes come into being in the home over the coming months.

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