Monday 14 December 2009

a lovely little stranger

I watched a couple of excellent Dementia documentaries on the BBC this week.

The first, "Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?" was a terrific exposé of how even what I'd consider the better care homes can fail to stimulate their charges. Gerry Robinson, an industry 'fixer' toured examples of both high-scoring and 'failing' homes (although I've seen a lot worse than those shown in the programme). In one very interesting case, 2 homes were owned and operated by the same man: one excellently at £750 per week and the other 'failing' at £400 per week. The difference in the staff and their willingness to sit with their residents was marked. Gerry Robinson caught hold of this crucial quality-of-life issue and ran with it, grasping that a happier atmosphere would encourage both full occupancy and better staff retention, improving life for the residents AND ensuring a profit for the owners. This particular owner, however, failed to support his staff, penny-pinched over their meals and fretted that his care homes hadn't been quite the cash-cows he'd hoped for. The camera lingered over his £4m stately home and high-end cars as he whined.

The second documentary I saw also focussed on stimulation as a key to the care of those with Alzheimers. "Alzheimer's: The Musical", part of the 'Wonderland' series, centred around the retention of song memory long after other functions are long gone and the "Singing for the Brain" initiatives that exist in parts of the country. There were scenes where some quite far-gone and unreachable sufferers became animated by the sing-along and participated so vigorously that they became indistinguishable from their partners and the volunteers beside them. The documentary included many poignant stories of couples involved and gave, I believe, an accurate picture of people today coping with partners with Alzheimer's.

One participant, Ted, talking about his wife, Hilda, crystallised how I think about Mum sometimes:

"I can't reach her. She's gone. She's disappeared... She's a lovely little stranger, but that's all she is, really"


karen said...

My mom will sometimes resight "Now I lay Me down to Sleep" with me at night. The words are wrong sometimes but the tone or tune is the same. And That is the only time all day she is normal sometimes.

citygirl said...

Neat! My mom would sing along no problem to songs but couldn't hold a conversation.

Greg said...

That's interesting, Citygirl. Reading your comment I first wondered if Alzheimer's somehow preferred to attack certain cells over others (those that governed higher-level cognitive behaviour over simple memory) but then I also sometimes think of the brain as an onion where it's the recent outer layers that are being attacked, leaving the childhood stuff below accessible. In the latter case, the conversation problem would be due to short-term memory problems, problems with new memories being retained. It's been a long while since I looked at any research into Dementia, so I'm a little vague as to what the current theories are.

Gavin said...

Greg--I agree with your analogy to the onion. I think they remember the songs because they are from so long ago.

My Mom's place has folks come in and sing old tunes all the time. Yesterday, at the Holiday Party, they had a couple come in and sing carols. Everyone sang along with "Rudolph".

They also do other activities to stimulate folks. Bingo, trivia, word games, etc. Not sure how much the resident retain because it's one person leading a group.

I will say that there seems to be a lot of personal interaction between the staff and the residents. Almost all of them speak to the residents whenever they walk by. Even little things like "How are you?" gives them some stimulation and connection.