Are you scared about going into a care home because you have dementia? I know I am and a recent survey undertaken by the Alzheimer’s Society found that 70% of us would be.
They also found that 80% of people living in care homes either have dementia or severe memory problems, which is significantly higher than had previously been estimated.
Worryingly the survey also found low expectations and a great deal of pessimism about life in care homes and highlighted a severe ‘image crisis’ in the care sector which they believe is leading to a failure to drive up standards of care.
My own experience, both personal (my mother lives in a care home for people with dementia) and professional (over 30 years social and NHS experience, working with older people) supports these findings.
Low staff morale contributes to ‘low image’ of care homes
In this country we value working with money – high salaries and excessive bonuses – more highly than working in the care sector, where care staff earn little more than the minimum wage. Add to this the fact that Local Authorities have driven care fees so low there generally aren’t enough staff to do a good job and it isn’t surprising morale is at an all time low and people aren’t rushing to do this much needed work.
Caring for people with dementia is complex and demands greater skill than looking after older people who may be physically frail but remain mentally alert, yet this expertise is not acknowledged or reflected in higher pay.
My mother’s care home – a model of doing it right
When I visit my mother, I am always impressed by the endless patience, kindness and skill staff show residents. My mother’s home takes people at local authority rates (under £500 a week) yet it didn’t stop them taking residents out for an expensive meal at Christmas. In addition, the manager had WiFi installed throughout the home when Mum got her iPad and recently allowed an elderly lady’s little dog to come in with her. However I know this care home is the exception rather than the rule and unrelated to the level of care fees paid. High care fees certainly do not guarantee quality and there are as many bad homes at the top of the care fees scale as there are good ones.
My rule of thumb
In my work as an independent specialist in care management for older people I regularly visit care homes for older people with dementia. Regrettably very few of them are as good as my mother’s and therefore fail the test I use for my clients:
‘Would this home be good enough for me or someone I love?’
With the number of people with dementia rising exponentially alongside increasing expectations, things will have to change. We demand the best for our children and ourselves throughout our lives so why should we settle for anything less for our own parents?
They will however be the last generation who put up with being treated badly. The Baby Boomers have now reached pensionable age and we will demand nothing less than being treated with respect, dignity and compassion. Until that time though, people with dementia will continue to be scared of going into a care home and expectations about care standards will remain low.
How to find a good care home for people with dementia
You will find my post Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a Care Home helpful.