Kaz Williams’ dad, Jim Simnett, has lived with us for 18 months, while Wendy Burton’s husband, Ian, moved into the home’s Churnet Lodge household four years ago because of his young onset dementia.
“Dad really settled into Barrowhill Hall after we tried a couple of places nearer to home,” said Kaz, who lives in Stapenhill in Burton on Trent.
“He’s very happy here. He loves to sit in the lounge in front of the fireplace and put his feet up.
“I can’t fault the staff. They are doing a brilliant job. I’d love to be able to touch him and hug him but I know that’s not possible at the moment.”
Kaz, her two sisters and her mum, used to visit two or three times a week. Their children and Jim’s grandchildren did, too.
They now visit weekly at the window or, when it’s permitted, in a chalet that’s been installed in the garden. This is where families can sit with their loved ones at a safe distance and wearing masks.
“We’re not sure how much he realises what’s going on,” said Kaz, “but the first time I saw him in the family chalet, he said to me, “Where have you been?” That’s the most he’s said to me in ages!”
Reassuring care offers Wendy a chance to rest
Wendy used to regularly make a 42-mile round trip from her home in Derbyshire to visit husband, Ian. Much as she misses him, the lockdown has been a chance for her to have a break.
“The whole situation has only been concerning in that it’s out of my control. But, I feel really confident in him being at Churnet Lodge,” she said.
“I know I can call at any time to see how he is and we get weekly updates every Wednesday. Our daughters and I went to see him a while ago in the chalet. Although we were wearing masks, he knew who we were, even though he can’t speak to us anymore.
“He put our coffee cups together, which was really romantic, and he sat with us for maybe half an hour. He usually wants to walk all the time. He looked so well, it was wonderful to see him.”
Our families have access to a private Facebook group where staff can share photos and information. Home manager, Matthew Whitfield, holds monthly meetings for families via Zoom so they can share any questions or concerns.
“I’m always available at the end of the phone should a family member want to speak to me,” he said.
“We keep them in touch with their loved ones as much as possible. We know it’s not the same as being able to hold their hand. Their patience and understanding has been amazing and we would like to thank them for that.”
Recent research suggests confidence among the public to move a relative into residential care has fallen during the pandemic. Around a third of respondents are now less likely to seek a place for their loved one.
Confident to come into care
Sharon Farnell’s mum, Eileen, has lived at Barrowhill Hall for just over a year. She said people should have confidence in choosing to move a relative in.
“I would like to be able to see Mum more but I know the staff are trying to keep her and all the other residents safe.
“I’ve recommended Barrowhill Hall to a number of friends,” she said. “They are getting to a point where their relative needs care and I don’t want them to be put off by the pandemic.”
Love was most definitely in the air on Valentine’s Day when our residents celebrated 372 years of love!
Husbands and wives were invited to Barrowhill Hall on February 14th 2020 to celebrate their relationships. A special lunch included lamb stroganoff, chocolate cupcakes and heart-shaped truffles.
A special wedding anniversary
Among them were Ian and Dulcie Thornewill. They were also celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary. The couple met when they were just teenagers at a church youth club in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.
“We decided to get married on Valentine’s Day because it just seemed a suitable date,” remembered Dulcie.
“Ian enjoyed looking at our wedding photos. He could remember his mum and dad and his brother.
“This is our first anniversary since he moved into Barrowhill Hall. Being apart is difficult, but the staff made it very special.”
Barrowhill Hall is a 74-bedroomed specialist dementia care and nursing home on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border.
It consists of two households. Churnet Lodge offers care for those those with early on-set dementia and memory loss.
Barrowhill Hall offers both residential and specialist nursing dementia care.
A celebration of love
Becky Buckley is the home’s activities manager.
“The event was an opportunity to celebrate love,” she said, “and for the couples to reminisce about what brought them together.
“We get to know partners really well when people move in with us. There were so many wedding photos to look at! They brought back happy and comforting memories. There were smiles, laughter and lots of hand-holding which was lovely to see.”
Love at first sight
Sean and Joan Devlin were one of the eight couples treated to lunch. Now in their early 80s, Joan didn’t meet Sean until she was 43.
“We got together because of my mum,” Joan remembered. “She’d been out for a walk and stopped for a rest opposite Sean’s house. She was 82 and he offered to give her a lift home. He was always helping people.
“When he dropped her off, he saw my photo hanging on the wall and that was it – it was love at first sight!”
The couple got married and bought a farm in Tutbury. They turned it into Little Park Holiday Homes which they ran successfully for 20 years. They then travelled the world in their retirement.
“He won me over with his twinkly eyes!” said Joan. “He has vascular dementia and Parkinson’s disease but he still has a sparkle. He’s always been a one off!
“The lunch was spectacular! A five-star hotel couldn’t have done better. They are so good here, so kind; I can’t fault them.”
“He wanted to walk all the time and we couldn’t keep him indoors,” said Wendy. “He was in and out of other people’s houses and the whole experience was very stressful.
“Ian went to Barrowhill Hall for respite in October 2016 and spent his first Christmas there that year. Much as we missed him it was a relief to know he was safe and well-cared for.”
More than 42,000 people in the UK are estimated to have young onset dementia. The term is used to describe dementia that starts before the age of 65. It is also described as ‘early-onset dementia’ and ‘working-age dementia’.
A home that meets Ian’s needs
Ian’s behavioural variant fronto-temporal dementia affects the parts of the brain responsible for complex thinking, personality and behaviour. One of the greatest changes it has brought about in him is that he is constantly on the move. Wendy says Barrowhill Hall is ideally suited to his needs.
“He lives in Churnet Lodge which has wide corridors and plenty of space so he can roam around. We always visit him on Christmas Day and if he decides not to sit with us for long, that’s ok.”
Staff do their best to keep the quiet lounge at Churnet Lodge free on Christmas morning so Ian can spend time with his three children and two grandchildren, who make the 44 mile round trip to see him.
“Ian doesn’t always recognize us as his family and he’s non-verbal now. But we can see he still gets pleasure out of the little ones. We keep back some of the grandchildren’s presents so they can open them with him and he does seem to enjoy that.
“We always bring him gifts. His Scottish heritage has become increasingly important to him, as has his military career. We’ve bought him cushions for his room with Highland cows on and photographs for his wall.
“There’s still room for humour too – his nickname at home was always Mr Grumpy and he’s got a bedding set of his namesake from the Seven Dwarves!”
Wendy works as a dementia advisor for the charity Making Space in Derby. She finds it comforting spending time with the other residents and chatting to staff who she’s got to know well.
“Families are always welcome as this is home for their loved ones,” said home manager, Matthew Whitfield.
“We always try to make Christmas as enjoyable as possible, whatever form that might take for them.
“For Wendy, Ian and the family, it’s giving them some quiet time together and being there when Ian gets to his feet so the family can relax and wait for him to go back to them again.”
The Burtons head home just before Christmas lunch is served at Churnet Lodge.
“It’s horrible to go away from him,” said Wendy, “but the Christmas before he moved into Barrowhill Hall was so difficult. It’s a much calmer celebration now.
“The girls know their dad is in the best place and he’s well-cared for. We love seeing the other residents enjoying Christmas – the staff really do make it as nice as it can be.”
Our friend Anna Milton Lewis has completed an 89 mile walk in memory of her dad.
Douglas, who spent 18 months living with us, loved the countryside of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. He spent many happy years in the area, exploring with his wife, Mary.
Douglas passed away at the age of 89 in February of this year.
Anna planned the walk to raise £890 for The Alzheimer’s Society and to revisit the local spots her dad loved so much.
“As a young couple, Dad and Mum used to cycle all over,” remembered Anna. “He found this area very beautiful and has such lovely memories of particularly Dimmingsdale and Alton where he lived for a while.
“I wanted this walk to connect the places in which he lived, loved, laughed and ultimately died. I followed memories and stories told before vascular dementia took its toll.”
Anna’s first stop was at Barrowhill Hall, 15 miles into her walk. It was wonderful to see her and offer her a well-earned rest before she set off again.
“He loved the view from the home,” said Anna. “He would sit with his binoculars and watch the birds, animals and admire the countryside.”
Anna’s route then took her through Alton, Oakamoor, Waterhouses, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Matlock and Carsington.
She completed her walk at the top of Thorpe Cloud with her mother and members of her family down below at Dovedale.
“I then decided to walk home from Dovedale as a personal challenge for myself,” said Anna. “This was very very hard going (23miles!) but I walked in my kitchen door 120 miles after I had left it!”
She smashed her fundraising target by raising almost £2,500.
“My father loved being out in the countryside. My hope is the money I raise will help people like him to continue to enjoy the benefits of the wonderful outdoors, where lost memories don’t matter because the distractions of the ‘here and now’ are just too great.”
Students from Ryecroft C.E. Middle School are stimulating memories and bringing laughter to residents thanks to a reading scheme that’s brought the two together.
Every Friday a group of year 7 and 8 pupils spend an hour with residents, reading to them and chatting, as well as playing games and doing crafts.
Their reading helps residents to relax, recall memories that bring them comfort and they enjoy the positive energy the young people bring.
“Our residents don’t always remember they’ve seen particular student,” said activities manager, Karen O’Moore, “but they always enjoy the sound of their voices and the stories they read.
“We can see how they relax with them and there’s often a lot of laughter. Being with the children helps them to think of younger family members or even their own childhoods.
“In those days, it was an exciting book and a torch under the bedclothes rather than a smart phone!”
The visits are something particularly enjoyed by Bill Smith, 92. He’s formed a special relationship with 11 year old Jack Moore, whose mum, Alison, is a senior carer at the home.
“Bill’s really nice, he’s really funny and we got on straight away,” said Jack. “I’ll be reading to him and suddenly he’ll remember something. We’ll talk about that for a bit, then carry on.
“I was a bit shy to start with as I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t really know anyone who has dementia, but Bill’s so easy to be with – he’s like a grandad.”
“I wish he came every day,” said Bill. “I love seeing all the children but he’s especially good company.”
The visits are part of the school’s ‘Options’ scheme – a lesson each week that pupils spend following an interest or learning a new skill.
“We weren’t sure how many children would take up the option of visiting a care home but there’s been great enthusiasm from the students,” said headteacher, Rachael Baramuszczak.
“We felt this was an important option for them. The school is just a mile away from Barrowhill Hall so it is a way for our pupils to contribute something very positive to their community. It gives them an immense amount of pride and satisfaction.”
The pupils largely spend their time in the main lounge but will take books up to residents who find it difficult to leave their rooms.
12 year old Zara Jackson is another of the students who chose to visit Barrowhill Hall.
“I wanted to come here to help me build my confidence,” she said. “I love talking to the residents and they really listen to me when I read to them.
“And it’s great to know that I’m doing something that makes them happy.”
A huge ‘congratulations!’ and a well-earned rest are due for our team of staff who completed a five mile climb up Mount Snowdon to raise money for families living with dementia.
The four staff made the near 250 mile round trip to north Wales on Saturday 15th September. They took two and a half hours to reach the 1,000m peak.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month and the staff organised their ‘Memory Walk’ in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. Barrowhill Hall is home to 74 residents, many of whom are living with dementia.
Our activity co-ordinators Val Barnes and Becky Dalton, and carers Amy Farrell and Becky Buckley, took part in the climb
“It was a fantastic if exhausting day,” said Val. “We weren’t sure if we’d be able to do it but we were thrilled to get to the top!
“We’re so passionate about the work that we do and we wanted to show that by completing this challenge.”
The team also comprised Ann Parker and Michele Millward, teachers from Abbotsholme School in Rocester. Children from the school visit us every Monday to spend time playing and chatting with residents.
“Our little ones have gained a great deal of understanding about dementia over the last few months, and so have we,” said Ann. “We were very keen to support Barrowhill’s fundraising and the support they show for families living with dementia – even when they’re not at work!
“The climb was amazing and we’re so glad we were part of it.”
He chatted to visitors and answered their gardening questions as well as admiring and photographing the spectacular views.
National Care Home Open Day is an annual event that gives people the chance to visit their local care home.
This year’s theme was ‘linking communities’ and we certainly did that! We welcomed Kinglsey Bird and Falconry Centre, Bamford Engine and Machinery Group, St Michael’s Church in Rocester, Tesco’s in Uttoxeter and the 22nd Signal Regiment from MOD Stafford.
Mr Flowerdew well-understands the needs of people with dementia. His mother Pam lived with the condition for several years.
“She loved to sit in the garden,” he said. “She wasn’t able to communicate very much in the later stages but she always seemed happier being able to see flowers around her.
The scent of lavender
“Scent was very stimulating for her. The smell of bacon cooking brought out a single memory of “Dad’s shop” when she hadn’t spoken for close to a year so I’m planning to use lots of scented plants at Barrowhill Hall.
“Beds of old fashioned lavender will give a wonderful smell and colour. It’s a safer plant than roses whose thorns can be a danger.
“I’ll also be thinking about seating and building in raised beds so residents can do planting without having to bend down.
Our care quality manager, Geoff Aris, said; “We would like to thank Mr Flowerdew, and all of those community groups and volunteers who made the Day such a success.
“It’s very important to us to make sure Barrowhill Hall, and all of our residents, are still very much part of their community.
“And with a beautiful, tailored garden design to look forward to we hope to welcome more local people to enjoy our home.”