535,300 elderly people who struggle to wash, don't receive the help they need.
222,600 elderly people who struggle to go to the toilet, don't receive the help they need.
343,500 elderly people who struggle to get out of bed by themselves, don't receive the help they need.
In 2016, Caroline Abrahams, the Age UK Charity Director, announced that, "a quarter of a million elderly people with multiple unmet care needs, struggle alone." That's one in every eight elderly person in England, who has to struggle with unmet needs for care of some sort.
It is fact that not enough social care support is being given to the elderly. This lack of support results in the constant coming and going of elderly people in and out of hospital and a whole community of people who are excluded from our society.
However, there are some people who haven't forgotten them. Putting up with a challenging job and with the insulting reward of minimum pay, dedicated care workers up and down the country spend long days and sometimes, even longer nights, caring for the section of our society that is often isolated and disrespected. I spoke to two care workers from Manor Croft Care Home in Dewsbury, about their experience in the profession and the challenges they must face in bad press, poor pay and stressful working hours. Having said that, Chloe Flynn and Lynda Fawcett, also revealed the joys of being a care worker and the need for more volunteers at care homes.
I thought it would be best to start off with hearing about what roles Chloe and Lynda have within the home.
"I'm activities coordinator." Lynda Fawcett let me know. "This entails
quite a lot of things. Firstly, we do regular one to one visits in a morning, because we have a lot of residents who are bed bound or confined to their room. This gives them some sort of contact at some time during the day and someone different to talk to. Then in the afternoon, we try and organise games or just sit and have a chat or a sing. We also organise trips out, which we did last week. We went to Ponderosa on Tuesday and took three residents there and on Wednesday we went to Dewsbury market and had lunch afterwards, because the ladies wanted to go shopping. On Thursday we went to a pub in Wakefield, which is right next to the canal. We had lunch there and walked up the towpath to watch the boats. What we are trying to do is target in particular, people who don't get out for whatever reason (probably because their families can't take them or they have specialist needs). These are the people we are really trying to aim for over these next few weeks - the people that wouldn't normally go very far. So, it covers all sorts of aspects really. If a resident has got a problem, sometimes they feel they can talk to us about it - especially if they don't feel comfortable approaching management. It's quite varied, but a nice job."
There are many different job roles within a care home, from activities coordinator to a care worker. Care workers like Chloe, assist elderly residents in their daily life by helping them with simple tasks that you and I take for granted everyday. They make sure that the residents take any medication they are required to, that they have good hygiene and a healthy diet and that any daily tasks, such as laundry are done for them. These are the people that make sure the elderly can wash, can go to the toilet and can get out of bed. The activity coordinators, like Lynda, make sure the residents are still able to socialise and enjoy life.
It takes a lot to be a care worker and I wondered how Lynda had gotten involved with working at Manor Croft.
"Quite by accident really!" She told me. "My mother was a resident here in the home and I'd never done this kind of work before. I happened to be looking for a new job and the manager at the time said they were looking for a new activities worker, asking if I wanted to apply for that! So, I sort of 'fell' into the job, never having done anything like this before, but it's wonderful - I love it! I wish I'd done it a long, long time ago!"
So, we know that Lynda enjoys what she does, but being a care worker is no walk in the park as I later found out.
"Is it quite challenging." Lynda told me.
"You've got to have patience, as a lot of residents can have challenging behaviour. You have to put up with that, which can be difficult, as we are all human and it's a struggle putting up with things like that." Chloe wisely commented.
"You know they can't help it. A resident may lash out and give you a thump or nip you, but you know that if they were well, they wouldn't do that! You don't take it personally, but we have one or two who do have quite challenging behaviour at the moment and it's difficult." Lynda added in agreement.
"It's also challenging in the emotional sense, as you can get attached to a resident and then if they then unfortunately pass away, it's heart breaking. They become almost like your grandma or granddad and you build that relationship with them. We sometimes say that we need to stop getting attached, but you can't possible do that!" Chloe continued.
"You also mustn't let your emotion show for the other residents, but that's so difficult too. Say a resident passes away in the morning, you still have all day to continue, put a face on, go back and be cheery with everyone else." Lynda said.
"It does, however, just show how much we do care." Added Chloe.
"Yea - tough as it is, if you don't feel like that, I'm not sure you'd suit this type of job. If you haven't got that type of emotion, I don't think you should be doing it." Lynda finished off by saying.
I also wanted to learn more about any stress and pressure on the NHS that might impact on care homes such as Manor Croft.
"It can impact us." Began Lynda. "Probably not right at the moment, but we've taken quite a lot of patients from the NHS. They are all end of life patients that need a place to stay, because they are only aloud to stay in hospital for a limited amount of time. They are nicknamed 'bed blockers', as they can block up beds for other patients who need them. The NHS therefore, put them into care homes, but it's quite tragic really as many of them have to go through the stress of moving, with already not much longer left to live. However, we don't have that problem so much now, as most residents here are permanent residents, but there was a phase where we got a lot of people from hospital."
However, what about the good things?
"Oh, I love working with a different generation - I absolutely love it! I can listen to the residents all day and I love it when we reminisce - it's my favourite activity." Lynda exclaimed with a smile on her face.
"I find it really interesting as well, because they tell you stories about the war and it's fascinating to hear." Chloe continued. "What they went through as a child is so different to now, as everything's changed. I can remember how I was showing a few residents pictures on my phone of where I'd been on holiday and they were absolutely fascinated by my phone and technology. It's strange how today we think this is normal, but it wasn't for them. They have so much knowledge; it's really interesting."
I can relate with Chloe! As a volunteer at Manor Croft myself, I once showed a photo of my dog to a resident, who happened to comment that my phone "was a very lovely mirror!"
"When you start speaking to them, you realise how much knowledge and life experience they have. Kenneth, a resident who used to live here, lived in Liverpool in the height of the sixties. It was when 'The Beatles' were just becoming famous and Ken was actually the drummer for 'Billy Fury'! He knew 'The Beatles' and he used to play in The Cavern Club! It just came out one day when we picked up a CD and he let us know how he used to go back to 'Billy Fury's' house for tea! The sixties was a big historical period and Ken was involved right at the heart of it! The stories they come out with are absolutely fascinating! Underneath the façade, they are the same age. In your mind, you still feel young, even if you don't look it. People forget that and those who don't get involved with the elderly miss out on so much, as they are all so interesting." Lynda told me knowingly - and I couldn't agree more!
This exceptional and unexpected story is just one of the many interesting facts and knowledgeable tales that the residents of the home keep hidden in their thoughts. However, it doesn't take long, but it does goes a long way, for someone like you to take a little time out of your day, have a cup of tea with a resident at your local care home and unearth a mine of dazzling memories.
Talking of visiting your local care home, I wanted to know why more people haven't volunteered for the elderly yet. I reckon it's because of an unfortunate thing called 'stigma.'
"Yea I agree - I think there's a stigma in general. I think care homes get a lot of bad press and some, I dare say, do deserve it, but unfortunately everyone tends to think that they're all the same and that all carers are the same. You hear really bad stories on the news about evil carers that have abused the residents, but they're probably very few and far between. Unfortunately though, someone sees that and it gives every other care home bad press." Lynda told me dismally.
Unfortunately, I understand exactly what Lynda is talking about. When I announced I would be volunteering at a care home for my DofE volunteering, I was met with all sorts of responses from 'it smells at care homes' and 'the elderly are boring'. However, the truth is, it doesn't smell bad and the elderly are far from boring, as we have just discussed.
"The taxi driver who drove us back from town came up with a good point: the years go by so quickly. You feel young now, but somewhere along the line, you'll suddenly be in this position yourself and I think you treat people the way you want to be treated. Do that and you can't go far wrong. Generally speaking, I think care homes do get a bad press, but I don't think you can say that about here. We're not perfect, we're not the smartest home, but we're a homely and caring home because we all care about the residents. The majority of people living here are very happy." - Lynda.
As for 'evil carers', not every care home is a culprit of abuse, but they are all victims of bad press.
"We are very caring here at Manor Croft. If we thought that anybody was doing something untoward to a resident, we would definitely report it." Lynda strongly reassured me.
"We have also learnt that every resident is different in their behaviour and that requires different responses from us. A lot of people here have dementia, so we have a different approach to them to a resident who does not have dementia. Some people can take humour and feel comfortable, whereas others actually get offended, so it's just really all about getting to know each resident and approaching them in a way that they feel is appropriate." Chloe continued wisely.
"If we thought that a carer was doing anything to harm a resident, then believe me, there would be trouble!"
"We also have to do police checks and risk assessments on everyone before they can work here. It's quite stringent about who is allowed into the home and who can communicate with the residents." Lynda rounded off, the pair of them putting to rest any future concern.
Nonetheless, why are volunteers so important?
There are many reasons why there is a huge need for more volunteers. To begin with, the elderly are a whole generation who are often cut off from an ever changing society and it is up to us to include them. Due to this exclusion from our community, the elderly are usually very lonely, with limited contact with anyone other than a care worker.
"Whilst the residents like to see us, its very nice to see a different face. They are really pleased to see somebody different coming in and it starts new conversations." Lynda began by saying.
"They're all different; a lot of the elderly do have dementia or Alzheimer's and most hardly speak." Chloe told me. "So, to be sat in a room and not be able to join in the conversation, that's already isolated! Then there's people who like to chat and like to take hold of a conversation more than others."
"The people who aren't in care homes and instead are living alone, rely on carers to visit. However, they only do so a couple of times a day and because of this, they become really lonely and isolated. With the system now, the carers are allocated a certain amount of time per person, so they can't possibly sit down and have a conversation and as a result, there is only so much they can do! They have to make them a meal, sort out personal care and don't have time to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat with them. This is why we need volunteers - someone who can have that cup of tea and maybe even take them out to the shops. This is particularly important for the elderly people who still live in their own home." Lynda announced, warning me of just how alienated elderly people can become.
"We have a lot of residents here as well whose family don't come and
visit regularly and some can't even get out of bed due to medical reasons. We haven't got the equipment needed to get them out of bed, so they are also isolated, which is why we do one to one's and try and get them chatting. Sometimes, we do their nails and we definitely speak to them over a cup of tea!" Chloe continued, reminding us of how elderly people can still be lonely, even when they live in a home.
"I think you're right about volunteers being so important and I wish we could have more. It gives us something new to talk about with them and the residents have something to look forward to, in seeing you." Lynda told me.
"It shows a great determination and commitment that you actually want to make a difference to somebody's life. Volunteering is all about coming out of your own way to make a difference. It means a lot and we need more people like you to help. The littlest bit of interaction from a new face makes them so happy and they have someone new to talk about and look forward to seeing. The morale in the home is also a lot higher when we have volunteers" Chloe continued.
"It's also nice for us too. Volunteers bring fresh ideas into the home and you are another pair of eyes and ears!" Agreed Lynda.
So, how can you get involved?
It's really easy! Find out where your local care home is and simply ring up to ask about volunteering. From there, the home should guide you in how to get involved and talk through with you any requirements needed, if the case may be. It's definitely worth the call!
The best part is, volunteering really helps you grow as a person. You develop your social skills and learn how to communicate with an area of our society, of which you perhaps had previously not much to do with; you are probably pushed out of your comfort zone (I know I was!), but once you have achieved the challenge, your comfort zone is suddenly not so small.
"It's also so rewarding for volunteers who come in and make such a difference to a person. The residents see us everyday, but when volunteers come in and chat with them, they love having a conversation with you. When you go home, you leave them feeling really happy." - Chloe.
"You've got to be very patient and you must have a sense of humour! You've got to be quite up beat and happy." Lynda advised.
"You must also be enthusiastic and confident as well, as you need to be the one encouraging them to speak to you, including them and getting them going. You have to be in charge of the conversations, ask them questions, take the lead and you need to be engaging." Chloe added expertly.
From my own experience, I have learnt to slow my particularly fast voice down and speak a few notches louder!
"A lot of it is just common sense, really." Lynda finished off. "Treat the residents how you would treat your own grandparents or parents. They become like your family and you need to know how to handle people. You can't handle everyone in the same way. Everyone is individual, so you must be adaptable in the way you speak to someone. Sometimes, you need to be firmer with people and others may need a bit more coaxing. That just comes with getting to know someone, though."
So, with a few tips under your belt, you might as well give volunteering a go. However, I wondered how many people had volunteered at Manor Croft before I did.
"A lot of them have actually been people on work experience and not volunteers." Chloe began by saying.
"As oppose to being voluntary, it's been more under duress than anything else. You get a few people who actually aren't interested and are only doing it because college has sent them here! Frankly, unfortunately the majority of people who come are like that, apart from the odd one or two. Why they are doing a course in health and social care, I really don't know! It might be because they think it's an easy option, but it really isn't an easy option at all! This sort of profession is very badly paid, being minimum wage. That's all right for me, as I'm activities coordinator and I get to do a lot of nice things, but Chloe is a carer and that type of job is very challenging; the work they do is terrific and how they do it, I really don't know. It's so underrated and quite insulting how they are only paid minimum wage for what they do. That shows the dedication of a lot of carers." Lynda passionately told me.
"It is very difficult when you're dealing with certain cares. You get a lot of residents who don't like the care aspect of living here, so whenever you go and check up on them, they may lash out on you. I've had things thrown at my head, but you realise that if you put yourself in their position, I wouldn't like somebody checking my pad or bed. Can you imagine having to reveal your private parts to somebody that you don't know? A lot of residents can't even speak for themselves, so their reaction is to lash out. It's a bit demeaning." Said Chloe sympathetically.
"This is why we try to keep people's dignity as much as we can." Continued Lynda. "It's an awful thing when someone loses their dignity. We always try to protect it."
"It can't be nice for them and if I was in that position, I wouldn't be happy either; I'd probably lash out myself. It must be awful, but as a carer you understand that despite the stress they might feel, you are making the residents look better, feel better and you are caring for them. You are helping them when you get them washed and dressed and you are making a difference to their well-being. I do like working here." Chloe admitted.
So, there you have it! In a world where we have inexcusably managed to isolate a whole generation of people, we must now work with joint efforts to include the elderly back into our society and you can make a difference. If volunteering still doesn't seem for you or you simply are unable to do so, you can still make a change in other ways: donating to charities that support elderly people such as 'Age UK' http://www.ageuk.org.uk/ goes a long way and by raising awareness of the situation to not only friends and family, but the greater community as well, will help spread the word.
The isolation of our elderly citizens has escalated right in front of our very eyes. The situation regarding loneliness is underrated and the work of care workers is underappreciated.
Social care needs to be a bigger priority within our government and volunteering is the first step in making that change and bringing back a sense of needed unity into our communities.
Remember, one day it will be us who will struggle to wash ourselves. We will struggle to go to the toilet by ourselves. We will struggle getting out of bed by ourselves and who will we rely on?
The next generation after us - just like the generation before us, relies on us now.
Thank you to Manor Croft Care Home.
Visit their website: http://silverlinecare.com/manorcroft-care-home/