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.”
“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.”