Yesterday, my sister and I visited several care homes which, according to their literature, specialise in dementia care. It was a sobering experience. Mum is still living at home at the moment, albeit with four visits from carers a day. I took Mum to see her consultant recently and, following the visit, I asked a question to which I didn’t really expect an answer. I asked whether it was possible to give us an assessment of when Mum will need full-time care. It’s a terribly difficult question because no two dementia stories are the same. But, to my surprise, the consultant was quite specific in his response. Within a year, he told me, Mum would definitely need to either have a full-time carer at home or to have moved to a care home herself. In addition, by the time of her next appointment with him in six months, my sister and I should have a clear idea of what we plan to do. I was very grateful for his candour, although the news is hardly welcome. It means the small semblance of independance my mother clings on to will disappear completely within twelve months.
Hence my sister and I took a day off work to trawl care homes. We started the day with a shortlist and managed to visit five of the homes on that list. To say the approach to dementia is variable is something of an understatement. Home one was extremely welcoming. The open response to an unscheduled visit told us a lot, as did the smiles on many of the residents’ faces. It seemed each resident was treated as an individual and it felt homely. We liked home one and it is very much in our plans. Home two told us a very different story. Despite claiming it has a dementia specialism, the lady who eventually greeted us told us that the home has dementia patients but not aggressive or difficult ones. Excuse me, but my experience of dementia is that it is sometimes impossible to guarantee how a person will react in a given situation. So, how can a care home choose the type of dementia it can deal with? Suffice to say, we didn’t bother to look round.
Care home three was set in idyllic countryside but that was as good as it got. The approach seemed very clinical. There was nothing to identify which resident lived in which room and there didn’t seem much evidence that individuality was cherished. Care home four provided a striking contrast. The surroundings promised little and it was ever so slightly chaotic inside. The manager was a delight though and it felt like a home which offered care. A friendly chocolate labrador added to the ambience and if a group of residents apparently listening to rap music in one of the sitting rooms seemed rather incongruous, there was no doubting the sense of contentment. Even the rather sickly pink hue of their brochure didn’t put us off. Home four is one for active consideration.
Care home five is not. This was a nursing home masquerading as a care home and although tidy, clean and spacious, it felt extremely anonymous. We were told that the group’s managing director chose the decor for all the rooms. That told us all we needed to know. The highlight of our visit was the musical “entertainment” being laid on for residents – the region’s own Peters and Lee for those who remember those icons of 70s harmony. “Dannyboy” can often seem plaintive – here it was merely desperate.
Thankfully, my sister and I were not desperate at the end of our travels. Two homes in which we can imagine Mum living was a reasonable return. There’s a marked difference in the cost of the two homes on our new shortlist but how to pay for care, and how unfair the general attitude to dementia is in that regard is something I’ll return to in a future blog.
For now, though, we feel we have made some progress but the hardest part is still to come. Identifying the time at which Mum moves, and helping her to make that transition will be painful for all of us, but most of all for Mum.