We recently held a writing competition, asking those in the care sector to tell us about their vivid experience whilst at work. We were glad to receive more articles than we expected and were really touched by all the stories we read. We will be publishing a number of those articles over the coming weeks. Today we are pleased to announce the second of our winners, Isabel Towey, who is another Home Instead Care Giver  from Torquay. Great work Isabel! 

My Story - Isabel Towey

My Client is a 97 year old lady who I have been caring for at the weekend for almost 9 months now. She has quite advanced vascular dementia which seems to have stayed about the same since I’ve known her. She has a live-in carer and my role is to give the carer a 2 hour break on a Saturday and Sunday between 1pm and 3pm.

For the first few weeks I kept her company in her own house until her daughter gave me the confidence to take her out in the car and stop at beautiful spots such as Meadfoot beach, Paignton beach and Broadsands for an ice-cream and chat. My Client has a brilliant routine of getting into and out of the car with the help of a zimmer frame and car handle attachment. [brilliant invention] All I need to do is shadow her and encourage her to walk slowly to the car and this is done without me physically supporting her. I’m pleased to say she has never had a fall!

Most of the time she is very repetitive which is symptomatic of her dementia and affects her short-term memory loss. She is often confused and agitated about where she is, why she’s doing something and often questions who the person is caring for her. Patience and re-assurance is a must and as a carer I often answer her same questions over and over again. This is part of our role and I have noticed how well she responds to patience and the gentle re-assuring tone of my voice.

Despite the repetitive questions, she has moments of great lucidity and if a conversation is geared towards a simple subject from the past she is quite capable of remembering rather detailed information. This is a joy to hear and has given me great hope for dementia sufferers. If carers find a connection with their client they can elicit lots of fascinating stories! On one occasion we talked about private schools in the Bay and she told me her daughter went to Croft Lodge School for girls. When I relayed this to her daughter, she was thrilled!

After a month of regularly taking her out in the car I decided to use the wheelchair for her to really enjoy the warm summer days. The full-time carer showed me how to use it and now it’s become part of our weekend routine. With lots of encouragement and patience, my client can get out of the car and into her wheelchair with little physical support from me, but shadowing her just in case she is unsteady, gives her the confidence. I have realised that her journey to and from the car and into and out of the wheelchair benefits her circulation, muscle strength and her decision making which is equivalent to a keep fit class!

So, every weekend my client and I have a routine of going to Cockington or Torre Abbey in Torquay. The disabled parking facilities are convenient and always available and there is a Tea room to enjoy an ice-cream or cream tea. However, our favourite place is Cockington, it’s like a little heaven on our doorstep. She is so stimulated by the sights of the huge colourful trees and landscape, the sounds of dogs barking and children playing, feel of the leaves and textures of bark and ferns, smells of the flowers and herbs…

Every week we encounter new experiences at this same place. I see her smiling, laughing and engaging with passers-by with their children and dogs. Often people will allow us to pet their friendly dogs, which she loves. We walk along the wheelchair friendly pathways around the lakes and each time she will make a familiar or new observation on our walk. She likes me to read the bench plaques dedicated to people who have died and the information posts which display the history and facts of Cockington. Come rain or shine we are there, as long as she’s wrapped up and comfortable {transparent umbrella if it rains} she seems to come alive.

If it happens to be too cold or too rainy we venture to the craft shops. This is where her cognition is challenged without her realising it. Firstly, we’ll visit the glass blowing studio. Although she cannot see them making the glass vases and artefacts, due to her limited eyesight, she can feel the finished products on display which [with permission] I carefully allow her to feel and look closely at their colours. These are usually glass fruit shapes, hearts and animals and my client can often guess what they are. We then venture to the Blacksmiths studio where she feels and observes the metal work and again can work out what shape they are. There is an amazing coiled metal sheep which she spots every time and a Dachshund shaped doorstop.

Our final destination is Cockington Court Tea room where we have our regular cream tea together. A cream tea for one is enough for the two of us and she enjoys the cream, jam and scone with her tea. She doesn’t need any help eating and drinking tea when she’s out as her co-ordination seem to normalise in this familiar situation.

If we have more time after our cream tea we venture into the craft studio where she observes the art work. I often go through the rack of art work, hold each picture in front of her and ask her what she can see.  This sets off a great conversation about colours, shapes and nature. There was a lovely watercolour painting of flowers and ivy and a pair of beautiful green eyes amongst the ivy and she can tell me exactly what was in that watercolour!

All in all, our weekly outings have become a real treat for the two of us. My Client and I have been on a journey of discovery together and every week is bonus when I see her sitting with her coat on waiting for me to take her out! She’s a credit to her live-in carers and her family who have invested in a positive care plan for the latter years of her life. This has proved to me that with the right care, there is a happy life to be had with dementia.