My name is Anna, and I began working in care homes when I was 18 while I attended university. After I got my degree, I studied at the Isle of Wight College to get my NVQ3 in health and social care and took up a position as new project coordinator at Island Health Care.
Our project was called VITAL (Valuing individuals Inspiring them to keep Treasured Memories and Active Lives) and our goal was just that - to ensure every single resident within the homes was valued, inspired, and treated as an individual.
We believed that our carers should know our resident's stories, so we worked closely with families who gave us as much information as they could about their loved ones – where they worked, where they went on holiday as a child, when they got married, stories from their childhood, family members, pets, you name it. We added this information to every care plan and encouraged all carers to get to know the people they were caring for. Talking about memories can spark a real fire within people, and although residents might forget the day-to-day things, they often remember lots about their past. People don’t disappear when they get dementia – they’re still there, and although they may look a little different, and they might get muddled or angry or upset, talking about the things that make them who they are can make a huge difference to their daily life.
As well as working in care homes for a number of years, I also lost my grandfather to dementia. As a child I loved weekend sleepovers and grandma and grandad’s house. We would make jam tarts, play croquet, and help with the gardening. Grandad David was very proud, very strong, and very loved by all of us. He began to forget things and started to get a bit confused and after some time, was diagnosed with dementia. After a number of years living at home with grandma and lots of family and friends helping to take care of him, it was time for him to go into residential care.
He and my grandma moved to the Isle of Wight and grandad went to live in a lovely care home that took excellent care of him. I always feel extremely lucky that I got to know my grandad as a child and as an adult. I also feel fortunate to have had an understanding of the disease and its effects so I was better able to cope with the changes my grandad was going through, and help support my grandma and family with the journey we were all on.
It’s my belief that talking, sharing, learning, and being a support for others while being supported yourself are all key to living with dementia – whether it’s your grandparent, parent, partner, or friend, it takes a village which is why the Alzheimer café is so important when navigating through difficult times.