Clapping quietly

The staff at Dorothy’s care home won’t hear that applause but, like all the other families of those they care for, I am clapping out loud for them! Being isolated at home is comparatively easy, especially for those of us retired people who have learned to be mostly at home anyway, quite used to our own company, either as soloists or couples, and able to find simple amusements, interests or ‘jobs to do’.

It’s not as easy as that in the micro-community of a care home, where the population is as varied as books on a library shelf, all different shapes and sizes, flanked by bookends of staff, and fixed in place to prevent them falling over.

At the care home life must go on, the books must be read, maybe changed, perhaps rearranged but always loved and carefully handled as normally as possible, and it does go on, although differently for now. The dozen or so fellow residents in my wife’s dementia wing are in the main solitary folk, although one or two have bonded to a degree with another friend in the same area. Consequently, the task of the staff is heavily centred on creating activities or occasions when all of group can participate, or at least for individuals to feel less isolated. Of course, these activities have been further curtailed in the present pandemic environment which precludes a lot of the normal external stimuli designed to provide opportunities for lifestyle enhancement, variability and social interaction.

The staff, the men and women who tend the residents like my wife, are as varied as their charges. I find, without exception, they are incredibly patient and caring, trained and quick to mediate and minimise frictions that inevitably occur between their disparate resident charges. Because Alzheimer’s doesn’t manifest itself in a constant, predictable set of behaviours, the management and staff do have unenviable jobs! Each resident has a unique underlying personality and with the addition of dementia their behaviour is sometimes bewildering, even frustrating, and difficult to manage. With such a mix of characteristics and personalities, the propensity for even a petty disturbance is ever present – just like in some families! The staff are vigilant, and some are specially trained to assist and develop group activities designed to engender a spirit of cohesiveness and, hopefully, harmony. Their aim, as I see it, is to help that amazingly diverse group find a sense of peace and contentedness in what must now, for most residents, seem such a foreign and different environment, so different to the one which previously shaped and determined their life and lifestyles over dozens of years.

I admire the sustained efforts of all the staff, even more so as they strive to achieve that peaceful aim under the ever-present threat of the coronavirus and the absence of visitors who would normally provide a degree of variety and moderation (and probably challenge, too!). Yes, I can attest that residents have great meals, a large screen TV, they have outside walks, games, exercise sessions, mini-concerts and innumerable group activities all carefully planned for maximum participation but… none of that is effective if not monitored and directed by dedicated staff who are alert to the personalities of their charges.

Now add to this diversity of residents, staff, activities, resources, the overlay of governmental control, residents and relatives’ concerns, normal organisational disfunction – and a myriad of other influences which when combined present a scenario fraught with unexpected complexities. For all of those reasons and more, ‘I lift’s me lid’ to the owners, management, and staff at BlueCross, I am proud of you all and the work you are doing in the face of such extraordinary circumstances!

I haven’t seen my wife for over five weeks now, as I write this, and I miss her more than I can express but….I know she is in good hands, and if I can continue to care for myself, I can look forward to a day, maybe soon after this is published, when we can resume our new, different, strange, remote but loving relationship again.  That’s what I have to clap about!