Elle Rigby 2nd November 2017
Our lack of knowledge of the reality of living in a care home is undoubtedly limited by our fear of actually imagining what it could be like.
With care homes only seeming newsworthy when some scandal about bad care breaks (cue momentary public outrage), are they really that bad?
If anyone knows, it’s the people who work there. We asked care workers to tell us what goes on behind the scenes and tell us how they’d like to be treated when they’re older.
Kelsang Minche, a domiciliary home care worker in the Lake District, says she prefers to support people in their own home as care homes are often regimented and rule-based.
“As a care worker, I like going into people’s homes because people are able to have relatively more control over their own care,” she says.
“I like the variety of home care as I do everything from walking the dog, shopping and cleaning, to personal care and companionship with many interesting people on a one to one basis.
“In a home, the hours are long and rushed, with very little opportunity for meaningful traction.”
Minche talks of the poor conditions and pay that care home workers face and finds the lack of training and opportunities for progression discouraging.
If she were to go into a home, her priorities would be privacy and a varied and vegetarian diet – something that Stephanie Weir, an agency worker for care homes in Norfolk, says would be difficult due to lack of money and training often found within care homes.
Weir likens care homes to “dog kennels” and says she is “terrified” at the prospect of growing old.
“Oh god, it’s absolutely so undignified. There isn’t a standard of care at all. It changes completely from one home to the next. There are care homes which are lovely – everything is centered around ensuring the residents have everything they need and want.
“Some care homes I work in have a board with daily activities available for the residents, and the workers go round each person checking what they would like to do.
“But then in others, it’s a completely different story. There’s nothing. I’ve seen residents sitting and crying on their own. The thought of living there just terrifies me.”
You know you’re just there to die – it’s truly terrifying
She says having to face the grim reality of care homes has opened her eyes and she would be reluctant to even consider sending a family member to one. However, caring for an older family member yourself can be hard.
“You absolutely have to consider other options before care homes. You can put people in care homes for a week, and that could give you a break.
“Put your mum in a care home for a week, get your shit together, and then start again. Get outside care if you really need to, but you do need to look at your options.”
Stephanie admits she’s reluctant to think about the prospect of old age.
“If you take a step back, a care home as a concept is terrifying. You know you’re just there to die – it’s truly terrifying. I’d need to consider other options.
“There needs to be a happy medium. Good carers give a shit. They will see people as actual people who are in their care, as opposed to dogs in a kennel.
“Some [carers] see caring for residents as a crappy job, like pot washing. They see the residents as pots they need to clean up and get on with. There’s no empathy.”
Another care worker, who doesn’t want to be named, says she had worked in homes from as young as 13-years old. Most of the work was cleaning but herself and the other teenage staff members were unsupervised most of the time which led to both young workers and elderly residents being put at risk.
She says she would be worried about whether the staff actually cared about her.
“Would there be regular checks or checks that would be so slow it would be too late to notice anything? Would I be force fed medication or seen as an individual? Who would report things if I couldn’t?”
Lucy, a mental health nurse who has previously worked in a care home, agrees with the lack of empathy and says: “I would like to be looked after with compassion and made sure that I had plenty of things available for me to do.”
“Definitely not patronised or spoken to as if I was a child. That really pisses me off.”
People wanted to die because all their friends were dead and they had no family
“One of the worst things was having to rush them to get dressed, which took away their independence. They could get dressed but it was just really slowly.”
She says when she first started doing night shifts in a care home there was a woman who was physically able to look after herself, but she just needed time and a bit of assistance from staff. However, because workers were under pressure to rush through looking after the residents, they used hoists to move her quickly instead of letting her do it herself. She saw the woman’s demeanour change within a couple of weeks, as she became withdrawn and depressed.
Lucy most fears the loneliness, adding: “People wanted to die because all their friends were dead and they had no family.”
Stephanie recommends: “I’d advise anyone considering going into a care home to do their research. I’ve seen behind the scenes and I can’t stress more that you should go into a potential home for a week to test it out before you commit.
“A one-off visit isn’t an accurate representation when everyone is on their best behaviour. You need to concentrate on the things you haven’t considered – sacrifice that ensuite bathroom if the kitchen is flexible to make suitable meals for your dietary needs. Sacrifice your desired location if the standard of care is better somewhere further away.
“You need to do the research.”
Don’t say we didn’t warn you…
Elle Rigby 2nd November 2017