How well do we really know the people we care for?

November 24, 2020

I was feeling a bit out of sorts this morning. Tired, achy, grumpy and unmotivated. I’m sure you know that feeling. Anyway, as I nursed my double shot latte in an attempt to liven myself up, I tried to analyse why this should be. My diet was pretty poor yesterday as I finished off the Halloween sweeties and polished off a bottle of wine. I didn’t sleep well as my hip was sore and also, I hadn’t “been to the loo”. So, all things considered and with thoughts of another lockdown looming, it was no wonder I felt a bit under par, but it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed quite easily. I’m lucky I had the cognitive skills to work this out, but what if I was living in a care home or at home with support from care staff and couldn’t communicate my needs? Somebody else would need to do the detective work and come up with a solution to make me feel better.

With the best will in the world it is so hard to work out why someone with dementia or other cognitive losses and difficulties with communication is “out of sorts”. We need to be doctors, nurses, counsellors, detectives, entertainers and magicians! Service Users’ families have high expectations of us to meet the needs of their loved ones and with family visits restricted, the pressure is increased.

Over time we build close bonds with some of our service users and may instinctively know when something’s not right. At other times it is just trial and error. We are good at the practical solutions and can try to rule out if someone may be too hot or cold, hungry, thirsty, in pain or constipated. We may also detect if someone is bored or feeling depressed. We are uniquely placed to get to know them, look beyond their diagnoses and frailty and find a way to brighten their day. It is often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Now more than ever it is important to have as much information about our service users as possible. Not just their medical history, list of medications and next of kin but the small things. Not just basic dietary requirements but Mary’s favourite biscuit is fig rolls, Edna likes her tea in a china cup, or Bill likes a milky coffee while watching This Morning. Not just a life story that is a list of people and events but what are the nuances of their personality, their well-loved routines, their tried and trusted remedies (we can learn a thing or two from this one).

You will be pleased to know I’m now rehydrated, I’ve had a hug from my husband and a walk in the fresh air. I’ve been to the loo and all is right with the world for today, but would you have been able to work out the solution for me or would you have labelled me as a grumpy old woman today?

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Katie Farrar

Occupational Therapist

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