Don’t treat our elderly as invisible, put them in the spotlight

Old age shouldn't make people invisible, it should do the opposite, says Louise Barnett, Balhousie's Director of Operations.

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In a candid and funny interview recently with a national newspaper, actress Miriam Margolyes told it as it is when it comes to old age.

She now requests a wheelchair at airports, and counts osteoporosis and stress incontinence among her ailments - the latter something she is cruelly humorous about. She and her female actor pals of a similar age get together for what she calls the organ recital “which is going through the problems of: how’s your heart? How’s your liver? How’s your lungs?”

Margolyes, 75, who once knocked on a stranger’s door asking if she could use their toilet, is not one to be ignored. Yet, she says, the elderly are frequently being treated as if they were invisible. She described being bumped into on the street, the Tube, in a swimming pool because she wasn’t moving quick enough.

As operators of a now 25-strong care home group, we like to think we know what Miriam is talking about. With a move into a home, our residents are not just moving house, it’s bigger than that. They often feel that they’re saying goodbye to some of their independence. For residents and their relatives, it’s a highly emotional time. We witness a mix of feelings, from nervousness, guilt and fear to relief and joy. There are some who view a care home move with finalilty, envisaging lonely, ‘invisible’ days and nights ahead. But in our experience it’s actually very different to this - the opposite even. Through support plans and personalised care, we hope we’re proving those people wrong.

Some of our residents have been with us for several years.  Some are living as couples in double rooms and live as they would in their marital home. And, all of them have had the opportunity to have a say in how our homes are run, from helping to plan activities to sitting on recruitment panels to helping write our care home policies.

Last week we launched our participation charter, the first of its kind in the care home industry. It formalises key statements that residents have identified to them as important for living within their care home -  from how they want to be treated, their involvement within their local communities, to taking control of their care plans and is part of our 'Together We’re Great’ initiative.

Our participation charter was inspired by the National Involvement Network and the Association of Real Change (ARC) Scotland. They’re more used to helping produce charters for charities, councils and social care organisations – particularly in the mental health and disability sectors. But we recognised the benefits of implementing similar principles for a care home group. Having a charter in place immediately declares support and commitment. From a business point of view, it sets out clear expectations and measurable outcomes.

But the most positive thing about it, in our opinion, is the fact that residents themselves helped write the charter and declared what’s important to them, saying: ‘We want to feel listened to and respected within our home.’ . They are in control of their own care. That’s a plus not just for us but for the care home sector in general. Care homes are places brimming with experience, talent, wisdom, stories, humour and love. This is something to be proud of and shared.

Another initiative of ours, which buddies up our care home residents at North Inch North Grove with schoolchildren from Balhousie Primary in Perth, proves this point. Friendships are developing, deep bonds are being created, the children are learning from their elders, and they are also learning respect for them.

Far from being treated as invisible, we believe our elderly should be celebrated, acknowledged and partnered with.

* The National Involvement Network is a large group of people who get support from different organisations across Scotland. It has signed up 45 organisations to its participation charters. It published its Charter for Involvement in 2015. For more information see http://arcuk.org.uk/scotland/charter-for-involvement/