By Kinga Dabrowska, customer relations co-ordinator at Abbey House, Swindon, a care home run by Milestones Trust. www.milestonestrust.org.uk
There’s no better way to stimulate imagination than by telling a story.
As a part of the National Storytelling Week, our care home, Abbey House in Swindon, invited pupils from Abbey Meads Community Primary School to write stories and share them with our residents. The group of eight children from the school writing club and their two teachers visited at the beginning of February and introduced our residents to the adventures of the Snowman. We hoped all the participants would have fun, but we never anticipated the huge amount of engagement we would see from both the children and residents in the event and how much everyone would enjoy taking part!
In a care home that supports residents with dementia, every day is different, and it can be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. We needed a space where everyone could take part in a safe and welcoming environment, and where the children would be able to get the most out of the day. The pupils were given short information sessions on the common symptoms of dementia and specific behaviours they were about to witness. Often dementia can manifest itself in unexpected ways, for example with impatience, anxiety and annoyance. We wanted the day to be not only enjoyable, but educational as well – and it was important the children were prepared.
The children were split into two groups and were welcomed with wide smiles, clapping and handshakes. It was wonderful to see some of our residents, who usually prefer their own company, invite pupils to sit next to them. The connection between both age groups was instant. The female residents complemented girls’ hair styles and asked their names. They soon started talking about their own grandchildren and recalling their funny school uniforms and memories of their school days. The children decided to rotate in small groups to give everyone the opportunity to hear all their stories. Our residents felt so proud and grateful they had been chosen by the children. Every story was met with applause and the children’s confidence grew with every minute.
It made us all very emotional to watch one resident with advanced dementia, who never initiates any conversation and spends her days napping, open her eyes, take an interest in the book of illustrations one pupil was reading from, exclaim, ‘oh a carrot!’, and then listen carefully to the tale. We went to see other residents in their rooms. When the reading started, a resident, who usually anxiously paces up and down the corridor, stopped by the door. The girl continued reading and the resident started moving closer, finally sitting down and patiently listening to the whole story.
The event was a great opportunity for our residents to feel they are an important part of the community. They were so focused on stories, happy to give advice and interact with young children. Year 6 students, who are just about to start secondary school, had the chance to talk to people many years their senior and hear about different stages of life. The children were very confident in their interactions and interested in conversations. It was a fantastic way to increase their social skills and they asked lots of questions about dementia and life in a care home.
Through this experience, they had an opportunity to see that old age is not a disease but the next chapter, as important as others. It gave me great pleasure to observe the exchange of different life perspectives. There were jokes, laughter and songs resonating even after children left. Residents could not stop talking about the visit; some of them wrote down children’s names to share with their families later. Everyone agreed we need to do this again.