During Dementia Awareness Week (17 to 23 May), we explore the journey of Barbara Wyatt, a resident at Sanctuary Care’s Ravenhurst Residential Care Home in Stourport-on-Severn and her daughter Jan Haydon.
Barbara, who is now 91 years old, lived alone in a bungalow in Stourport-on-Severn. Her daughter first noticed that something was wrong when her mother started to become increasingly forgetful. When she visited her she would find piles of paperwork scattered around. Jan would tidy it up, but when she returned it was like she had never been there.
Jan said: “She was not managing in the house. Looking back I feel really sad as I used to try and force her to remember things.”
Eventually, after Jan did a lot of online research and took her mother to a memory clinic, Barbara was diagnosed with vascular dementia – the second most common type of dementia caused by diseased blood vessels reducing the blood supply to the brain.
Jan said: “I knew nothing at all about dementia. At the time I felt that we were very much on our own. I wanted somebody to come and tell me what to expect and what to do.”
Barbara then moved into sheltered accommodation, so that she had a little extra support. She lived there for two years until her mobility deteriorated to a point where she was no longer safe living alone.
Jan said: “I was getting phone calls in the night because she would get up and fall out of bed. One Saturday she fell three times in one day and it was then that we decided that she couldn’t live on her own.”
After looking at a number of care homes, a friend of Jan’s recommended Sanctuary Care’s Ravenhurst Residential Care Home in Stourport-on-Severn, which provides residential care, dementia care, respite and day care.
“We went to see it and saw the residents were wonderfully well looked after,” she said. “Mum came with me and said she thought she could be happy there.
“The girls that showed us round were obviously dedicated to what they were doing and the residents were very happy.”
Jan said after doing so much research into dementia herself, it was a relief to meet the team, who explained so much to her and made things clearer.
“There were lots of things that they told me that explained her behaviour,” she added. One of these things was when supporting someone with dementia you need to ‘live in the moment’ that they are currently living in.
She said: “That is the biggest thing – not to correct them but to be ‘in that time’ with them. That’s something that I learnt from the manager at the home.”
Since she learnt to do this Jan has found it much easier to engage with Barbara.
She adds: “We will often talk about things and I have no idea what she is talking about, but they are lovely conversations because I’m engaging with her and that’s the key thing.”
Jan said Barbara will sometimes ask if her late mother is going to visit her and then pause, as if she is aware that she has become confused.
“When people have dementia I imagine there is some part of them that knows what’s going on, that’s what I find quite distressing that she might be going through that. It’s quite a cruel part of the illness.
“There are times when she is extremely lucid, although these days are rare, and she will talk to me and remember things and I think perhaps she is getting better, but then the next time she sees me she will think that I’m her sister – it ebbs and flows.”
Speaking about how the team at Ravenhurst have supported Barbara she said: “They treat her with respect and have discovered things about her and things that she likes – they engage with her as Barbara, an individual.”
Jan said her mother is a very observant lady and because of dementia can become quite anxious, so to help her to feel relaxed, her carers will take her for a drive so that she can peacefully enjoy looking at what is going on in the area, which calms her and makes her feel more at ease.
Jan said instead of worrying when Barbara was living alone, the care she receives from the team at Ravenhurst puts her mind at ease.
“I feel they love her like a member of their own family. Before I would never go away on holiday, but now I can go and not worry because I know that she’s well looked after – that’s reassuring.”
As well as gardening with Barbara, which is something that she loved to do when she lived alone, Jan said the home organises lots of activities for the residents which support them to engage and feel occupied.