There are around seven million carers in the UK. With the number of young carers growing every year, Artefact has been speaking to one young carer who works in a residential home.
After watching her grandmother go through the stages of dementia, Olivia chose that she wanted to help those who suffer from dementia. Olivia is currently the youngest carer at the residential home. With 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, we spent the day with 18 year-old during one of her shifts.
“Most 18 year-olds are going out at the weekend and going out with friends, however, I can spend my whole weekend here. Some days it’s difficult when you see your friends partying and acting their age. Whereas I have to somewhat act older than I am. I can’t count the number of times residents have told me that I’m ‘too young to be looking after people’ and asking if I know what I’m doing.”
Every day as a care assistant is different. One shift you can be in a residential home, looking after an array of different people with different needs and the next, you could be in somebody’s home, taking care of them. I become the person they rely upon and trust.
Today, I am in the residential home. The residential home cares for those who are elderly with dementia and those who need help looking after themselves. Residential and nursing homes are different. Residential homes will be staffed for 24 hours, whereas, nursing homes have the support of registered nurses, who are on-site throughout the day and night.
Working in a residential home requires helping the residents who need help with washing themselves, getting dressed, eating and going to the toilet. However, some residents treasure their independence and do not accept our help, but I’m always there to help.
One resident I will be working closely with today is Mrs A. The 92-year-old has been living in our residential home for nearly two years now, after becoming a victim of Vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is caused by the reduced blood supply to the brain to bring oxygen and nutrients. People who have dementia will have issues with their short-term memory which can make completing everyday tasks difficult and sometimes dangerous. It can also leave its suffer confused, unable able to focus and pay attention.
Mrs A suffered from a stroke shortly after the passing of her husband which brought on the early onset of dementia. After being diagnosed, Mrs A was brought to the residential home by her daughter. Due to her job, she is unable to look after her mother. Mrs A was the first resident I assisted.
I had heard of people who had dementia, but I never knew the true effect it had on people until I started this job. Caring for Mrs A has opened my eyes massively.The first thing I’ll be doing on this shift is waking Mrs A up. Depending on how she is feeling, most days I can walk in to find Mrs A fully dressed, washed and ready for the day. Other days, she won’t want to get out of bed and will be confused and frightened.
Luckily, today she is happy and ready for the day. Before we leave the room, I will check to see if Mrs A has dressed her self properly and then check the bed sheets. Even though Mrs A is independent, she can sometimes forget where the toilet is and will not make it on time. After this, I will check the bathroom. Due to the effect of dementia, Mrs A can turn the tap on and simply walk away. We have an incident where the sink was plugged, and she had accidentally left the tap on. After all the checks are done, it’s time for breakfast.
On our way to the dining hall, I will see how Mrs A is feeling and if she slept well. I will also ask her what she wants for breakfast. Mrs A loves a bowl of porridge; she used to make her daughter porridge every day before school. When eating her porridge, Mrs A will ask where her daughter is as she believes she’s going to be late for school.
I have learnt throughout my job that it is important not to correct those with dementia, too many think this sounds silly and unkind because you’re lying to them. However, this can keep them settled and stop them from lashing out. If Mrs A is settled and happy eating her breakfast, then I will help some residents who are unable to feed themselves. During this process, Mrs A will continuously come up to me and tell me to come back to sit with her.
After Mrs A has eaten her breakfast and had her morning cup of tea, I will walk with her to the day room. The day room is where residents spend a majority of their time. The room is filled with activities such as puzzles, reading, singing and where the very much loved game of bingo takes place. With a newspaper in front of her, Mrs A is happily settled. Knowing that she is happy, I will make my way back to the dining room and help tidy up. We try to keep everyone to a routine. This is for the residents as much as it is for us care assistants.
The first planned activity is swimming. Not every resident takes part in every activity, as much as we’d like them to, it depends on how they are feeling. Mrs A never swims, she may hang her feet over the edge, but she doesn’t get fully in. This activity will last around an hour. We rotate with staff and residents to ensure that everyone gets a turn at the activity. Swimming is very popular with those who are wheelchair-bound. Even though they’re unable to use their legs, they enjoy being out of their chairs and swimming with us.
When my group of residents are happy to go back and dry off, I take them back into their rooms to dry them off and get them dressed, leaving the rest with my work colleague.
After this I check on Mrs A, by now, she will be on her fifth cup of tea. I have never seen someone drink tea as quick as Mrs A.Throughout the day, residents have snacks of their choice. Taking it in turn, one of us will complete a shopping list in which we will find out what type of snacks the residents will want for the following week. Last Week Mrs A requested Kit-Kats. The residents have their own fridge; however, they are not allowed to access the fridge without asking. This is because some residents had a habit of taking more than they should and hiding it in their rooms. So now we, as Mrs A puts it, ‘treat them like children’.
Every day the residents have a different lunch. We have up to three different dishes – soups, sandwiches and small meals depending on how hungry they are. Mrs A is having soup today, tomato soup is her favourite. Lunch is the same as breakfast, and I offer my help to those who need it. I offer to eat with some of the residents as well because they worry that we are being left out.
Once everyone has finished their lunch, we will walk them back to the day room or if they wish, back to their rooms for an afternoon nap.
During the afternoon, around 3:00 pm, visitors will start to arrive. Visiting time is my favourite. I love seeing the residents happy. Even though some residents don’t always have visitors, other residents’ loved ones will make them feel as if they do and go around to talk to them. Today, Mrs A doesn’t have visitors. It’s sad to see someone getting used to not having people coming to see them, but that’s what I’m there for. Even though I am there to do a job, I call Mrs A and all the residents my family. Most days, I see them more than my actual family which is crazy.
To me, being a care assistant is not all about just caring for a patient and moving onto the next. You make a relationship with the people you care for, you become a part of their lives, and they rely on you to be there for them. When I do house visits, I offer to wash dishes, put washing away and be a friend. Even though you are there to care for someone who needs help in their everyday life, you’re there to help them do activities. I become a part of their lives as they become a part of mine.
I will often sit with Mrs A to help her complete some puzzles whilst others have visitors which is where she often tells me ‘I’m not stupid, you know’ when trying to help.
Some of the residents enjoy doing activities such as puzzles, especially Mrs A. This can keep them occupied for a number of hours and settles them nicely. As well as puzzles, some of our residents like reading. They like to be kept up-to-date with the news. We take it in turns to bring in a number of newspapers and magazines for those who like to read them.Sometimes visitors can throw dementia sufferers off, and this is why I try and keep Mrs A distracted. When the visitors have gone, we don’t tell them that their loved ones have gone home as this can upset them because then they remember that they aren’t home and will want to go home. We tell them they have gone to work or have already eaten, so they don’t have to worry about them.
As easy as it sounds to get a couple of people into bed, it is far from that. If they don’t want to sleep, they won’t. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing my job properly, leaving them to wander and not putting them to bed but sometimes it’s better. I never understood why my parents kept me away from my gran when she had dementia and told me that she wasn’t herself. But after looking after Mrs A, I understand it perfectly.
Even though most of our residents can make it to the bathroom during the day, the night time can be different. This is why we leave their bathroom light on so they can see where they are going. I will also put their pads on in case they sleep through, so they don’t feel bad about wetting the bed.
As you can imagine, every day is different, but I wouldn’t change that for the world. When I tell people that I am a care assistant, they look shocked and question my choice of job. Often asking why would I want to spend my day looking after “old people”. However, being a carer isn’t just about looking after people. My job doesn’t always feel like a job, without a doubt there are times where it is hard. Watching Mrs A having to sit alone when no one has decided to visit her, breaks my heart. Being able to make her day a little better is part of my job. Even if it wasn’t my job, I’d love to sit with her for her company. Being a carer requires assisting those who need help. But it also requires you to create relationships with those who feel most alone.”
Olivia smiles, waving goodbye to Mrs A. Ending her 12 hour shift by clocking herself out. She leaves the residential home for her own.
Being able to follow Olivia around her workplace for the day has truly been an eye-opener. Seeing the relationships she has been able to make and keep due to her job is encouraging. The thought of working with those who have dementia and becoming a carer is somewhat daunting to me.
However, seeing how Olivia has taken her part-time job, she started just for the money, and now looks forward to her job and has become a part of the resident’s lives is fascinating. It gave me the opportunity to get an insight into what working in a care home and has helped me understand more about dementia.
Find out more about Carers by visiting Carers UK.
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