I have recently started as a Care and Wellbeing Consultant with Plan with Care, who support vulnerable older people in their own homes and in care homes. One of the things we often put into place is a Creative Companion to befriend and visit a person on a regular basis. It’s a brilliant idea and often a much-needed element of someone’s care. Sadly, in some care homes, sitting and chatting with people, going out for a walk, or doing fun things can be a stretch too far for busy care teams. What I am discovering through my work is that Plan with Care offers something better than general befriending services, as they really do recruit creatively to match people well and find individuals who offer something particularly special.
I recently met Jessie. She is a young student doing her Master’s, and she lost her beloved grandfather at the start of the pandemic. This experience made her decide to take on a part-time role as a Creative Companion, and Plan with Care now arranges for her to visit Emily. Emily is a 95-year-old woman, living in a care home, who is very isolated and spends much of her time in bed. Emily is often sad and, in many ways, as she describes it, feels ‘ready to die’. But, when Jessie visits, magic moments happen. Jessie takes the time to sit with Emily and invite her to share memories of her past. Jessie found lots of photographs in the cupboard and the one of Emily’s beloved husband, who has died, never fails to bring a huge smile of pride to her face.
Jessie has also done lots of creative things to bring some variety into the day for Emily. She brought along her guitar and they did some singing together. And, on another occasion, she brought in a dog (to the delight of many of the people living and working in the care home). But, when I was discussing this with Jessie and feeding back to her that all the care home team members had commented on what a difference it made, Jessie reflected that, while it had certainly brought some laughter and energy into the home, it wasn’t really what had made the most difference to Emily herself. She said, “It’s really the quieter, one-to-one time, looking at the photographs of her husband and other family members that Emily appreciates.” I was impressed that Jessie had understood that the real ‘creativity’ of a Creative Companion is to explore different possibilities, but sometimes to recognise that it is in the simple things that the most connection can be found.
Jessie and Emily reminded me, once again, that often what’s most important to offer people who spend a lot of time on their own, especially towards the end of their lives, is loving companionship with kind attention to understanding what’s most important to people. For Emily, this is the love of her handsome husband, who she holds in her heart as comfort in her saddest moments, and who still brings a twinkle to her eye.