In the shoes of Karen (2)… a daughter’s insights into life in a care home

Earlier in the series, we posted a powerful guest blog from “Karen”, describing her life looking after both parents with dementia.  Karen tweets as ‘DazeinourLives’ (highly recommended to follow) now telling us how life continues with her Mum, both grieving for her father after his recent death and grappling with the relentless decline brought about by her Mum’s Alzheimer’s.

We have had two recent posts about safeguarding in care homes (Mike Ewins and Alan Rosenbach) and the danger of ‘low level’ abuse becoming even more serious. Here Karen shares a letter that she wrote complaining about an incident she witnessed in the care home whilst she was visiting her father. The care worker was subsequently dismissed. The manager of the home had  frantically urged Karen to put her concerns in writing to her; she was aware of reported poor standards by this particular care worker and needed more evidence…

Dear Ginny (care worker)

I am writing to you directly to tell you how I am feeling after Mum and I came to visit Dad today at [Care Home]. I want to tell you what it feels like to have heard what I did.

I sat with my Dad this afternoon and listened to you speaking with unprovoked spite about Mrs. Coates (a resident). In-between checking your text messages and chatting with your colleagues about the messages you received, I heard you call Mrs. Coates ‘mean’ for calling the hairdresser an unflattering name. A few minutes after this, still unprovoked, you said, “I’ve had enough of Barbara (Mrs Coates’ first name), she calls me all the names under the sun…can’t take her any more. I’ve had enough. No wonder no one ever wants to come and work on this floor. She’s even worse than this at night, Barbara is.”

Thankfully, Mrs. Coates did not hear you, but she was only in the corridor and could easily have caught her name and realised you were speaking about her, or even actually heard what you said. About an hour before this you had had a very small but disagreeable exchange with her over some issue…I heard you contradict her over something in a totally dismissive manner that left me feeling very sad and uncomfortable.

Perhaps you think this is a trivial matter. It is actually quite the opposite. I am devastated that you can speak this way to, and about a person. The fact that you did so to colleagues and in front of other residents and their family makes me wonder if you are even aware of yourself.

Mrs. Coates has dementia. It is an illness over which she has no control.

She, like all the residents there has lived a full and capable life, with fabulous stories about different times in her life, some of which she is able to recount, and at times enjoys doing so. I know this because I have chatted with her about her life and it is a joy to hear. I know full well that her dementia makes her disagreeable. But blatantly contradicting Mrs. Coates in the way I heard you do earlier this afternoon is like putting petrol on a bonfire. Contradicting a person with dementia is both pointless and dangerous and is likely to elicit the worst behaviour possible.

My Mum also has dementia and this also makes her disagreeable, as no doubt you will have seen. Dementia changes a person. Do you know that my Mum was a kind, exquisitely diplomatic, caring person who has spent her life thinking about and caring for others? No, you won’t know this, why would you? After all, there is little, if any, evidence of this now. Dementia is killing that part of her and in time her behaviour is gradually becoming even more challenging. But she cannot help that, just as Mrs. Coates cannot.

Mum’s illness terrifies her, and I see the same fear in Mrs. Coates’ eyes. She is locked in a place that is not her home and she is afraid.

I would be too. She needs kindness and understanding, cheerfulness and distraction. She needs people around her to be interested in her, to engage in a positive way and to care.

I am afraid that I did not see you attempt to engage in a positive way with any resident today, even though many were awake and obviously bored. I saw you engage enthusiastically with your colleagues about non work-related topics.

As my Mum very reasonably pointed out to you after your outburst, you are paid to look after Mrs. Coates. You are also paid to look after my Dad.

One day you might be paid to look after my Mum.

I have spent this evening wondering if you could be like that in my company, what are you capable of when you are not seen…the fact is that with people with dementia, no one will ever know. I am properly frightened at that thought. I came home and cried that I was leaving Dad in the care of someone who could speak so unkindly to and about any human being in their care.

In order to safeguard vulnerable adults, I have felt the need to share this with the management at [care Home], but this is addressed to you directly so you might develop some understanding of the impact of your words and your attitude on people’s lives. It seems only fair to tell you myself.

Yours sincerely,

[Mr Y’s daughter]

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About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives. http://nutshellcomms.co.uk
This entry was posted in Blogs, community engagement, dementia, education, Guest blog, health, in my shoes, personalisation, safeguarding, social care, TLAP - Making It Real, well-being and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to In the shoes of Karen (2)… a daughter’s insights into life in a care home

  1. Anonymous says:

    Such a beautiful letter. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it Karen. I will ask all new volunteers @ our Club for people with dementia to read it, as part of their induction

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  6. Kate Swaffer says:

    Dear Mrs Y’s daughter,
    Thank you for sharing your very sad experience in the care home. Tragically, this is the experience for so many people with dementia and their families. Speaking out is the only way this will ever change, and your courage will be rewarded.
    I reblogged it onto my site http://kateswaffer.com/2012/09/22/in-the-shoes-of-karen-2-a-daughters-insights-into-life-in-a-care-home/ immediately after reading it as I believe it needs to be read by everyone.
    With love and hope,
    Kate

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  7. Anonymous says:

    As a care home manager I applaud you for speaking out, I too like a previous poster shall use this in supervision sessions with my team, thank you for sharing this

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