For Jola Janson, communication is at the very heart of care: it was her own moving experiences at home in Poland, and then her arrival in England with limited language skills, that gave her the ability to support residents who have lost their powers of communication.
Before moving to England in 2015 to work at Care UK’s Norfolk House care home, Jola had carved out a career using drama and art therapy. She followed a Masters degree in Education with postgraduate courses in drama, psychodrama, therapeutic communication methods and theatre directing with children and young people.
She also learnt methods to help society’s most vulnerable people – from people with learning disabilities to those with addictions – using various communication tools offered by art, therapy and her own intuition.
Once in England, she set about using her skills to benefit older people with communication problems. She explained: “When I was a teenager, I lived for more than two years with my beloved nanny in her house – just me and her.
“She had Alzheimer’s disease. It was a very hard to watch such a wonderful, artistic woman change into someone I didn’t know. When sitting next to her, holding her hand, I looked into her eyes, trying to find the woman who used to be my role model and my support. She was alive and yet she had gone, and I felt a terrible sense of loss. She was a wonderful singer and the only thing left unchanged in our relationship was our love for music.”
Jola also tragically lost her own daughter, Laura. She had spent time in a coma, and Jola dedicated her time to communicating her love and affection to her daughter while she was in the hospital.
Jola was determined to use her experience to support others. After several care roles, she became a lifestyle coordinator at Care UK’s Milner House. She said: “When I moved here I felt insecure, frustrated and unsafe, because of my lack of English. Having insufficient language skills, you focus not on language itself but on body language, facial expressions and atmosphere. You try to catch the mood of the person sitting with you and key words in their speech. This gave me an invaluable insight into communicating with those who had lost their communication skills.”
Jola spent a great deal of time working with a resident who was deaf and blind. She explained: “I started by reading her life story and looking at photos of her, to gain ideas. I began to wear a bracelet. I would put her hand on my bracelet each time we met, and she began putting her hand on my wrist trying to find the bracelet so she could recognise me.”
The next step was inventing a common code of touch to communicate. Jola worked one-to-one with her on sensory activities, providing her with tactile and olfactory stimulation, re-establishing a sense of awareness of her body and her environment.
Food played an important role and Jola ensured the resident was able to smell and touch her meals for recognition. Jola said: “I tried to respond to the resident’s needs: if I saw her becoming anxious I would gently massage her hand or just hold it, and this calmed her. I was really touched when, after some time, she used to look for my hand to touch it and kiss it.
“There is no doubt for me that it was the experience establishing communication with my darling daughter that helped me establish my relationship with the special resident. I can’t overestimate how much I have received working with the residents of Milner House.”