We run an exercise on our training days that gets participants to work in pairs asking each other a dozen questions. The questions have been carefully refined to ensure that they are not too intrusive whilst sharing some personal information about each person. We then invite the students to write a plan for a really nice day for their new ‘friend’. They then share this plan and are often surprised at how little they have to change. We take some time to share the plans and explore how varied people are in what they enjoy and what makes them happy on a daily basis. We then point out that every care worker is writing the script for these daily plans for residents every single day.
What always comes to light is that many people like to spend some element of their day on their own. It might be spent reading a book, watching TV, exploring the Internet or just sitting quietly.
It seems to me that we don’t always offer the same opportunity to residents. It is not unusual to hear a resident described as solitary and spending all their time alone in negative terms or as Mr or Mrs Sociable in more positive tones as they are always in the lounge.
I’m heartened when I read a Care Plan that says somebody likes to retreat to their room at certain times of day as this is recognising the need for a bit of quiet time. It doesn’t mean they never want to connect with others just that they need some breathing space between events like lunch and activity sessions. I feel for the residents who are routinely encouraged to sit in the lounge on the grounds that ‘It will be good for them to socialise’.
In my experience, not all Residents Lounges are sociable places. Too often the seating is arranged to allow for the passage of wheelchairs or hoists leading to furniture around the edge of a room. Chairs placed side by side don’t encourage conversation unless you have the neck of a giraffe. Equally some lounges in newly built homes have been so over-designed that the pristine look is so much like an Ideal Home demonstration set that it puts off even bravest from relaxing there.
I recall a resident who would always make her way to her room in the afternoon despite her visual impairment and the pleading of staff to stay in the lounge. In the 30 years since she retired from work, she had always enjoyed a siesta on her bed with a good book. As her activity provider I had set her up with a magnifier, strong lamp and book stand to help her do this. I often heard the care team discuss what a shame it was that she missed out on planned group sessions in the afternoon. They were only trying to be kind but in doing so neglected to see that person-centred care means supporting the individual to do what they want to do and not what we might think is good for them. I wonder how many other residents are deprived of their own time and space through misguided acts of kindness?