Below, we take a look at the things we feel are most important when it comes to the dignity of the elderly when living in a care home.
Government: Do not depend on government intervention. Anti-aging legislation, emphasising equal rights, particularly in the medical area, yes, but how many elderly in care homes use a postal vote in an election…?
Philosophy: Pursue a philosophy that recognises the service user as a unique individual, doing things with them rather than for them and that respects values and needs even if they differ from one's own.
Leadership: Provide leadership by example of the area managers/senior management of care home groups by visiting the homes to discuss with staff at care assistant level as opposed to care manager level; not only day staff but night staff as well, who often feel isolated. Perhaps some groups need a ‘mystery shopper'.
Staff: Train the care assistant staff who may not have been born in this country, or who may be young, to respect the wishes of the service user. Many residents were borne before the war and may not wish to be called by their first name.
- Role reversal: Train the care assistants to imagine themselves elderly and dependent and in pain, and to work out how they would themselves feel. I know someone who imagines the elderly men as soldiers having once defended their country and elderly ladies as twenties flappers or 40's land girls. One should "see" a person as they are or as they were, rather than just the "illness they have".
- Whistle blower: Look at how to take advantage of the honest "whistle blower" in the staff without firing the wrongdoer.
- Key worker: The role of the ‘key worker' is so important. By involving the key worker in the overall picture of what the resident's needs are when they enter the care home environment we can give that continuing level of care. This is so important in such areas as whether the individual concerned liked their hair to be styled and cut regularly or ensuring their interest in make-up continues. Supervise closely the "key worker" care assistant who is responsible for a resident's needs (no soap….? someone else's underwear…?) and the family purchases which will make the resident's life more comfortable.
- Valuing the staff: By ensuring the staff feel valued the service user will be valued, thus raising the level of care and respect for and dignity of the residents. The importance of realisation by families and senior staff that a care assistant's job is often extremely challenging and involves tasks which many would find it hard to do for a member of their family let alone doing it for their fellow human being – and doing these tasks continually day in and day out and not on a ‘one off' basis. We all need to feel loved and needed – whether that is a child in its formative years or an elderly person coming to the end of their lives – or a care assistant carrying out often unpleasant tasks - and respect follows through from being loved and needed.
- Reward and thank staff that do a good job. "Care staff need to feel valued".
- Train staff to find a common interest with the residents, particularly those with dementia. One resident, who had difficulty in settling and had been in several care homes before her current home, was encouraged to form rhyming phrasing to the carer's names, e.g., Brenda – big spender, Brenda – kind and tender, and it gave her something on which to focus. Another enjoyed talking about their experience as a firefighter during the ‘Blitz' in London's Dockland and it was discovered a member of staff's father had also experienced these events so she could reminisce graphically with this resident.