Patricia Marquis – Telephonist to Care Assistant
Each month we profile a care professional who has come into the sector after a career change and who demonstrates that it really is never too late to care! This month we meet Patricia Marquis, from Octavia Housing, who was inspired to join entry into care later in life after caring for her parents.
“Listening and seeing the person, not the illness” – that is what makes a good carer, according to Octavia care assistant, Patricia Marquis. When talking to her during one of her shifts at the dementia wing of extra care scheme, Leonora House, her nurturing nature and passion for caring shine through.
Nominated for an award at the Great British Care Awards 2019, Patricia’s entry into the profession came later in life, after she found herself at a crossroads in her career. Leaving her job to care for her parents, she found that lending a helping hand and a listening ear came naturally to her. Keen to harness these compassionate qualities, she decided to pursue a career in dementia care.
“I started my journey in care work around 10 years ago. Prior to this I was a telephonist and receptionist at various hospitals in west London. When I hit my late 40s, I knew I needed a change and wanted to do something totally different. I left my job and began taking care of my parents full-time. Looking after them was really rewarding and the experience inspired me to look into caring professionally.”
While the day-to-day tasks for a dementia carer can vary, conversation is a constant within the role. As Patricia speaks fondly of her relationship with the residents, it is clear the benefits of this social contact are beyond measure.
“I’m responsible for personal care, laundry, cooking, risk assessments, and phone calls to GPs and families. Days can be busy and varied but they always involve talking to residents. I love chatting to them about anything and everything. It could be about the news, the past, or the present. It’s great to see them come to life when we are having a laugh or sharing stories. We also have a lot of common interests. As we watch TV together in the communal lounge, we often recognise old TV programmes – Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie to name a couple. I hear them humming the theme tunes and talking about characters and storylines I’ve long forgotten about.”
Statistics by Alzheimer’s Research UK report that 850,000 people currently live with dementia in the UK and over 209,000 new cases are recorded in the country every year. Dementia is the largest cause of death in the UK and around 70% of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems.
As a not-for-profit organisation that provides homes, support and care to thousands of individuals in London, Octavia care staff are regularly trained on the latest best practices of how to increase quality of life for individuals with dementia. In recent years this has included training through an ‘immersive tour’, which recreates the experience of what it is like to have dementia.
“The tour deepened my understanding of the realities of life with dementia. Being put in residents’ ‘shoes’ helped me to make sense of their behaviours and rethink how some of our actions may be perceived. We had to wear blindfolds during the exercise and one of the trainers kept grabbing us. With my vision and hearing obscured, being touched by a stranger felt intrusive and left a lasting impression on me. Since then, when I’m providing personal care for residents, I’m now very mindful about how I support them as I still remember how it felt during the training.”
Promoting a spirit of encouragement and empowerment, the carers at Leonora House help residents live happily, independently and with the care they need.
“If I can see that there is something a resident is able to do for themselves, I encourage them to do it. Whether it’s personal care or mobility related. At Leonora House, there can be smooth days when everything runs like clockwork, but there can also be days when things don’t go according to plan. I always keep the residents informed on what’s going on and tell them why their dinner is running late or why there has been a delay with a family phone call. More often than not, they are able to understand what I’m saying to them. By promoting their independence, we treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Food creates instant community and comradery between the residents and Pat takes pride in the meals she provides at Leonora House
“We cook all of the residents’ meals fresh and from scratch. I try to give the residents a choice at every meal, showing them the menu for the day and asking them what they would like. If someone turned around and said I want something completely different, I would always try to accommodate them. Meals are a great time for the residents to come together. We have colourful plates and bowls to help them see their food. As someone who eats with their eyes, I always try to make the meals look vibrant and exciting”
Limiting freedoms and provoking fear, vulnerability and confusion, the pandemic has been a great source of anxiety and frustration for many older people – with dementia often amplifying this. Pat explains how her team have adapted their approach to meet the needs of the residents.
“We’ve all been very careful, taking all the safety precautions from the moment the crisis started. Wearing masks around residents who are particularly vulnerable can be disorienting or confusing for them. But we’ve found ways to break down the explanation for them, so they understand why we have to wear the equipment. This involves reminding them why we are wearing PPE every time – “it’s to protect you and to protect me.” If that’s what it takes to put their minds at ease, then I’m more than happy to do it.”
To maximise comfort and reduce distress, Leonora House carers provide residents with end of life care. Not only does this avoid any upheaval caused by a hospice move, it enables the residents to spend their final few days at home, surrounded by carers whom they have built a relationship with.
“I’ve worked with two residents at the end of their lives. I checked up on them, making sure they were comfortable in bed and had everything they needed. Even though I felt powerless, I held their hands and spoke to them up until the very end. I hope this brought some form of relief during their last moments.”
Despite the memory loss they may be experiencing, the residents still find ways of expressing their gratitude – appreciation that means a lot to Patricia.
“There was one resident, Tom, who had been at Leonora House for four years. Towards the end of his life we knew he was going to pass away. I was going on annual leave for a week and before I left my last shift, he said to me, “Pat I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” His words were really touching and will stay with me forever.”