A year ago, Dad went into residential care.
While he was still living at home there was always a worry: would he be OK… was he happy… would he leave the back door open… or have an accident? He is a vulnerable adult, but here he is safe and cannot wander.
There came a point when he was merely existing in his own home; barely coping and very lost. He was lonely, and as his health deteriorated, it all became too much for him.
His world is a lot smaller now, but it is all, and everything, that he needs. He has people on hand at all times and he doesn’t have to think about what he has to do… or what has to be done.
His name is on the door of his room and he checks it every time – just to be sure he is in the right place. This is his. He belongs here.
He has a ritual: when he comes in (or leaves) he switches on/off his lamp and radio – which is tuned to Classic FM.
He recognises this is his space, and he has control over his environment. Most of the time he is content to just sit and listen to the music, in subdued lighting; calm and relaxed.
It was all very bewildering for him when he first moved in.
His room is on the first floor and he found it hard to find his way there – and back again. Unlike his own home, this place does not have a regular sequence or layout of rooms: kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom. There are long corridors, lots of doors and big rooms and he had to get used to using a lift. But he has adjusted very well.
Dad was used to going to the day centre so the concept of sitting in a big room, or eating with lots of other people, was not that strange to him. Initially, he thought this was some sort of hotel and was worried because he didn’t have any money on him to pay for it.
Now he just accepts it. He is not looking for anything more, or wonder about where he lived before.
Moving here has definitely given him a new lease of life. He is well looked after and he seems less ‘lost’. There are activities throughout the day – music, art, games – and he is happy to join in.
When the residents are called for lunch he knows where to go. He chooses his seat at a table and sits ready to be served. He says the food is good.
When someone with dementia moves into residential care it is because they need more support. When you live a life of confusion and uncertainty, independence is not always a good thing.
How many other people lived in this room before him?
The room could certainly do with a lick of paint and new flooring. It’s basic but it’s a good size and feels comfortable. We re-used the picture hooks that someone else had put there. The personal bits and pieces that came from his own home are what makes it his.
The staff are all very experienced. They have seen it all before.
We haven’t. This is our father and we want to do the right thing.
To ease him into this new environment they advised us to bring some things from his home – things he might recognise and relate to.
And so his whole home has been condensed into a few ‘meaningful’ and useful belongings: clothes, the TV, an armchair, some paintings, alarm clock, photos, photo albums, photo books of old Belfast, a radio, blankets, mugs, kettle and a lamp……
When it comes down to it, what do we really need?
When he first saw this room (after having spent 10 days in hospital) he seemed to recognise some of the pictures, his alarm clock, his hat… things he used on an intimate and personal basis.
He shows no interest in the books and photos and wouldn’t think to browse through the albums unless we show them to him.
Sometimes, he will point to a photo of mum. He knows she has passed away, but he still has a deep sense that she was part of his life.
His room comes with a kitchenette. We can make a cup of tea and sit with him; we listen to the music, sharing the moment.
He has two windows looking out onto a quiet street. Here he can see children playing and everyday comings and goings: people hanging out washing, cats on fences, birds in the trees, cars driving past. And, behind that is the hillside where he would have played when he was a child.
It’s never an easy decision to move someone from their home to a home. It’s heart-wrenching.
We would have loved him to stay on in his own home for ever, but it wasn’t a safe environment.
In the end, after yet another fall, the decision was made. It was the right time.
He loves his room. He says: “It’s great here”. And it is.
In his own home he used to be fretful, distracted and anxious – for no real reason. Now he has nothing to worry or fret about. He doesn’t have bills to pay, or shopping to do; cleaning, gardening or laundry.
And, for the first time in his life he has his own en-suite bathroom and a shower where he can comfortably sit, rather than having to step awkwardly up into a bath. The room is equipped with emergency cords and intercom – though in an emergency he probably wouldn’t know to use them.
At night the staff regularly check each room so we know that if he has a fall or a problem he would be found quickly. It’s a big relief.
This is a different stage of his life.
Living in residential care he has the best of both worlds. He has his own space as a place to retreat to when he wants to be alone, and communal living for company and support.
He joins in with the activities and loves the art sessions and listening to music. There’s always something going on. The staff are friendly and caring and the other residents look out for him.
It means a lot to us to know that here he is surrounded by people who know him – even if he does not know them.
When we leave him, it is with a sense that he is happy and content.