As a volunteer with Healthwatch Bucks, I visit care homes looking at how people experience dignity in their lives. At first, that sounded simple to me, but, as I’d rarely visited care homes before, it wasn’t as easy as I thought.
We look at how homes ensure people are treated with dignity, and how they are given as much independence as possible to live their own lives and make their own choices. This can be something as simple as being offered choices about where to eat their meals, or taking part in activities, which they had enjoyed in earlier life, such as gardening or cooking. Of course, people do have to be kept safe, but they also need to be able to challenge themselves and enjoy life.
After a series of training courses, I visited my first care home. In the beginning, I found it very uncomfortable to observe the lives of those living with dementia. Seeing how the condition changes a person’s life shocked me. Although residents seemed happy, I was unsettled to see ladies rocking dolls and men fastening and unfastening latches on a fidget board. Their vulnerability was very much on show, as was the need for care homes to embrace each resident as they are, whilst recognising who they once were. It showed me just how much I had to learn.
It also brought home how important the Healthwatch Bucks Dignity in Care project is. Other bodies make sure people in care homes are kept safe and staff are well trained. However, no other organisation can just concentrate on whether care is dignified for the individual. Through our reports and recommendations, I really believe we do make a difference to improving dignity in care, even if sometimes it’s only in a small way.
I must say that I am very impressed with the care and compassion staff show to the people they are looking after. From the reports we read in the press, it is sometimes easy to think that care workers can be indifferent, or even cruel. I have found this is not the case in the homes I’ve been to; staff genuinely seem to strive to look after residents kindly and patiently.
Going forward, I hope that more care homes look at our recommendations in a positive way and not as a criticism. We are trying to make things better for everyone. Sometimes, that’s a matter of sharing good practice and seeing how other care homes do things well. We can always learn, from others, how to make people’s lives better.
I’m really looking forward to my next visit. I hope to be able to visit a care home where people live with a learning disability. My involvement, so far, has only been in homes where people have nursing needs and people live with dementia. I am sure I will see and hear a different set of experiences.
It is so important that we remember to ask care home residents how they’d like to live; after all, it is their life, no matter where they live and what stage of life they are at.