It felt like the Great Escape. Ray was sitting at a dining table at Wren Hall helping himself to his third stack of French Toast since his arrival that afternoon. A few hours earlier he was in hospital having lost about 15 kgs in weight during the last five weeks.
He was admitted after a breaking his hip at home. His condition deteriorated rapidly. The hospital was not meeting his needs. He was going to die. This was September 2017.
Joyce, his wife of over 60 years had died the previous March. Ray had been living with dementia for a number of years, but saw himself as Joyce’s carer, even though she continued to do all the cooking and cleaning! After Joyce’s death, he was able to look after himself at home (with some help) and appeared to be doing okay.
I have to say that my Dad could be a very difficult person. He was fiercely independent. He had been a very capable man, a respected engineer and teacher. Ray though, was an extremely private person and his life was deeply affected by his Asperger’s Syndrome. This could make him very angry.
The question for us, was how was he going to accept living in a care home? For example, how was he going to react to intimate personal care? We never thought he would settle in, that life would be impossible for him and he would make life difficult for others.
Amazingly, he settled in extremely well. I had never seen him so happy in the company of others. Of course, there were very low points for him too. Dementia robbed him of the ability to communicate in the way he was used to. This could make him very tearful.
What was it about Wren Hall?
The first thing you notice is how relaxed the place is. It looks homely, people are doing their thing (whether that was relaxing in a chair or having a walk around to see what was going on), everyone who works or visits there, stopping to chat to people. This came from the top with the expectation that everyone is treated as equally important. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Interaction with other men was always important to Ray. The male staff knew this and made a special effort to spend time with him. This made him feel special. Ray did not really interact with the other people living there, so the comradeship with the staff and visitors was essential to his well-being. I’ve never heard him laugh so regularly as he did with staff at Wren Hall
As you may had already guessed, food was a source of great pleasure to Ray. Having his second Full English Breakfast of the morning or an ice-cream in the afternoon whilst watching the TV, was for him, always a delight, a pleasure and a treat.
Ray loved the railways and a collection of interesting books, pictures and materials was provided that he particularly enjoyed engaging with.
When Ray was upset, he would cry and sometimes strike out. Staff would never give up on trying to provide comfort. They recognised that they could not always resolve the ‘problem’, but they never ignored him. They would give him the space to move on from what was making feel upset or help him to get involved in something else.
What I have learnt about what matters most in supporting people with dementia, is that you need the right staff who are enabled by a culture that puts empathy, love and kindness above anything else.
Wren Hall: The great escape from an untimely death, loneliness, heartbreak and boredom.