red blanket on bed in residential care home

It’s been a year since my dad went into residential care

When someone with dementia moves into residential care it is because they need more support.

While he was still living at home we would worry: was he OK… was he happy… would he leave the back door open… or have an accident?  

Before he moved here his social worker, the Day Centre staff and his carers advised us that he wasn’t coping quite as well as we thought. As objective outsiders with lots of experience they could perhaps see more clearly what we could not.

Am ageing parent with dementia is a vulnerable adult.

Even with people regularly coming and going he would seem a bit lost and lonely. The place he knew so well and where he should feel the most safe – his own home – was at times unfamiliar to him. Day to day, he was existing rather than living.

In residential care there are people on hand at all times.

His world is a lot smaller now that it once was – but it is all and everything, that he needs.

Here, he doesn’t have to think about what he has to do… or what has to be done. It is all done for him.

This is his room. He belongs here. His name is on the door and he checks it every time – just to be sure he is in the right place.  

He recognises  this is his space, and that he has a level of control over his environment.

When he comes in (or leaves) he switches on/off his lamp and radio. It’s a ritual that signifies his independence and how he lived before.

Most of the time he is content to just sit in his room and  listen to the radio in subdued lighting. It is quiet, and he is calm and relaxed – but never isolated.

When you live a life of confusion and uncertainty, independence is not always a good thing.

room with curtain and plant

At first, it was all very strange for him.

Unlike his own home, this residential care home layout does not have a regular domestic layout of rooms such as: kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedroom.  There are long corridors, many doors and big rooms with lots of seating.

His room is on the first floor and he found it hard to find his way there – and back again.  

He had to get used to using a lift. But, he has adjusted very well.

For any of us it would a huge transition to give up your home and move into residential care. I think, because Dad was used to going to the local Day Centre the concept of sitting in a big room and eating with lots of other people was not that strange to him.

Initially, he thought this was some sort of hotel. He was a bit worried because he didn’t have any money on him to pay for it.

Now he just accepts he lives here and seems to have forgotten all about his home. He doesn’t look to ‘go home’.

room with clothes on rail in wardrobe

Moving here has given him a new lease of life.

He is well looked after and he seems less ‘lost’.

In this residential care home there are activities throughout the day  – music, art, games. He is happy to join in.

When the residents are called for lunch he knows where to go. He chooses his seat at his regular table and sits ready to be served. He says the food is good and eats well.

ceiling in care home room with lampshade and sprinklers

You do wonder: 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 not luxurious, but it’s a good size and feels comfortable.

Looking at different places one thing that stood out for us above all others was: how happy/ unhappy are the residents? Within reason, it doesn’t matter so much how the place looks; it is about how it feels.

With an ageing population care homes are in big demand – and big business.

The staff in this residential care home are all very experienced. And so although this experience is new to us, they have seen it all before.

To ease his transition to living in this new environment they advised us to bring  some personal belongings from his home – things he might recognise and relate to.

And so in this one room his whole home has been condensed into a few ‘meaningful’ and useful belongings.  His clothes, the TV, an armchair, some paintings, an alarm clock, photos, photo albums, duvet covers, photo books of old Belfast, a radio, blankets, mugs, kettle and a lamp.

These personal bits and pieces that came from his own home are what makes it his. But, we re-used the existing picture hooks created by past occupants.

When it comes down to it, what do we really need?

How much stuff do we actually use?

Do we keep just things for the sake of it?

My dad lived in house full of things he never used – and so most of it was left behind. When it comes to it, his needs are simple. That became very clear when he had to move into residential care.

bed room and pillow

Dad spent 10 days in hospital before he entered residential care.

The hospital social workers were keen to have him moved on and moved out; they were not particularly helpful in the process.

At first, he seemed to recognise some of the pictures, his alarm clock, his hat… things he was familiar with an a more intimate and personal basis.

But, he shows no  real interest in the books and photos – 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 of her and that she was part of his life.

room in care home view through window to street, rainy day

His room comes with a little kitchenette.

It means we can make a cup of tea and sit with him listening to the music, sharing the moment. This makes it feel less institutional, and more like his home.

There are 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. Real life, daily routines. And, there is the hillside where he would played when he was a child.

It’s never an easy decision to move someone from their home to residential care. It’s heart-wrenching.

You want the best for your parents.

We would have loved him to stay on in his own home for ever. But the progression of his illness meant it was no longer living a safe environment. His home for 50 years was not the best place for him to be.

In the end – after yet another fall – the decision was made. It was the right time.

room with disabled shower

He loves his room.  He says: “It’s great here”. And it is.

In his own home he used to be distracted and anxious – for no real reason.  

Now he has less to worry or fret about.  There are no bills to pay, or cooking or cleaning, gardening, laundry. No worries about keys, locking the door or leaving the iron or cooker on.

And, for the first time in his life he has his own en-suite bathroom. 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, I doubt he would 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. That is a big relief.

The reality is: my dad has entered a different stage of life

We are lucky that we could find a place that is lively and sociable, that is so geared up for his needs.

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 well with the activities and loves the art and music sessions. 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.

This is his home now.

When we leave him,  we know that he is happy, content and well looked after.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.