After Carole retired from working in the town school, she took a job in the local gift shop where she became the oracle for local gossip. There weren’t many locals Carole didn’t know! When Carole’s cognition started to deteriorate, she moved into The Lawns Care Home, where she cut herself off from these local friends and acquaintances, ashamed that she was now a resident in a home that she used to volunteer in.
The staff reported that Carole tended to ‘look down her nose’ at the other residents, and sadly she was also struggling to build good relationships with her carers. Intent as she was on maintaining her strong, feisty and independent persona it is likely that she interpreted offers of care as demeaning.
Between Carole’s memory loss and reluctance to socialise, she struggled to share stories of herself unprompted. Luckily, Carole’s close ties to the area meant that some of the carers knew Carole already, and were able to provide little anecdotes themselves. Although this was helpful to build a care plan, Carole became increasingly anxious as she mis-interpreted this knowledge-sharing as “tittle-tattle” and felt everyone in the village was now talking about her in a negative way. The staff were desperately trying to find ways to engage Carole; but it wasn’t until Plan with Care brought in the dementia-specialist creative training company, Ladder to the Moon (LttM), that they were really able to overcome the barriers of pride and paranoia.
I liaised with one of the wonderful Creative Practitioners at LttM, and we fixed a date with The Lawns Care Home for Carole to spend a day taking part in a bespoke activity based on her favourite musical, the Sound of Music. These activity days are designed for carers to gain a deeper level of understanding of the unique needs and preferences for each individual in relation to their dementia, so she was joined by her keyworker and a new Creative Companion, Sarah. Ultimately, this is relationship-building training is beautifully disguised as having a really fun time!
We were all slightly apprehensive about how Carole would respond to the LttM team, and their big box of props! However, it didn’t take long before Carole was chopping up sandwich ingredients for the Sound of Music themed garden picnic, and she took a shine to the Clapper Board and declared herself, not only the lead nun, but the Director! Carole’s keyworker, Martha, started the session declaring she was quite shy, and not too keen on singing, but it was Carole herself that convinced Martha to let go of her inhibitions. Not long after, they were all half-singing, half-crying with laughter, during afternoon tea. Indeed, the day finished up with almost all the residents and staff in the lounge together, starring in the Lawn Care Home production of Sound of Music!
(Carole and the Care Home received a DVD of their production, to enjoy again and again on the big screen in the lounge.)
Given everything new they had learned about Carole during the day, Martha and Sarah, together with the LttM crew, mind-mapped ideas for future ways to spend time with Carole, applying Seligman’s PERMA model of psychological wellbeing and happiness: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments.
You may be thinking, a fun day of filming sounds all very well and good, but Carole will forget that by the next morning, so what’s the point? I can assure you that the lasting impact has been quite significant. While Carole might not remember the details of the event, it’s given Sarah the stimulus to continue building their relationship upon. Sarah had a talking point when she came back the following week to commence her role as Creative Companion, and Martha and the other carers felt like they’d seen a warmer side to Carole that they hadn’t before. Without this intervention, it is likely that the carers would have continued to struggle to break through Carole’s prickly exterior. And this begs the question, how well can you really care for someone you really don’t know?
Today, Carole looks forward to regular outings with Sarah, even having tea in the local village and saying hello to people she once used to gossip with. It’s not so important that Carole doesn’t recall all the details of where they are or who she’s saying hello to, because Sarah is there, skilfully offering confidence and support, and ensuring the conversation keeps flowing. If the conversation stalls for too long, Sarah can always chime in with “did you know that Carole used to be a film director…?”
If you think your loved one would benefit from reconnecting with the joys in life and deepening relationships with those caring for them, get in touch and we can discuss what kind of bespoke, creative intervention will work best.