The Last WeekPosted on 11th March 2016 by Sean de Podesta
Last Friday, I was covering the telephone in the office and took several interesting calls. First, one from Gerry.
He had been to see Matthew, a 73-year-old man with a learning disability, who had been admitted to hospital earlier in the week because he had been feeling suicidal. Gerry had been helping Matthew into new sheltered accommodation only the week before. Matthew has also been suffering badly with his legs and is losing his mobility. Over the last few months, Gerry has been seeing Matthew two or three times a week, liaising with social services and his housing provider on Matthew’s behalf.
Earlier in the week, I spoke with Gerry about another man he had been visiting, who had died last Monday. Thomas was 83 years old, and had been relatively well until the end of last year when he had a fall on the bus and fractured his hip. This resulted in his being in hospital and then in a care home for a long period of recuperation and physiotherapy. Plans were being made for his return home when he developed pneumonia and was admitted to hospital for the last time. There, visits from Gerry and another NCS volunteer as well as continuing visits from his Grace Eyre support workers ensured that Thomas was not alone or forgotten in his last days (see www.grace-eyre.org for details of the Grace Eyre Foundation who support people with learning disabilities).
I was on the phone for quite a while on Friday, so I checked the missed calls before I left the office. There was a message from Joanna, one of our volunteers who for the last five years has been visiting Elizabeth, a 79-year-old woman with learning disabilities who has literacy problems. Joanna was very concerned because Elizabeth had taken large sums of money out of her building society account to transfer them to her bank account which is accessible by card. In the past a friend of hers had taken advantage of her financially and it looked as if this might be happening again.
There was also a message from another volunteer, Elly. She had just been to see 90-year-old Anna, who is very frail and suffering serious memory problems. Elly was particularly concerned on this occasion because Anna had a bed sore and seemed distressed. She had called social services to raise her concerns, and resolved to call on Anna over the weekend.
These examples illustrate the situations that many of our scheme members find themselves in. Our volunteers are not there to solve all their problems, but they are there to look out for them, and this most definitely is what Gerry, Joanna and Elly do for the people they visit. Back in the office we support them as best we can and follow up on their concerns. These cases also highlight several key themes of our work.
Isolation: Before his accident, Thomas spent nearly all his time alone in his flat. His only visitors were Grace Eyre support workers and his NCS volunteer. He was lonely, but also a loner, so he didn’t know how to overcome this. In the care home and hospital, surrounded by activity and other people, he seemed happier. The right company in the right amounts can make even loners feel happier. In Thomas’s case, it was good that the Grace Eyre workers could continue to see him throughout his hospital and care-home stays. He was not forgotten.
Falls Prevention: Thomas’s physical decline was accelerated by his fall and broken hip in December. Such accidents can prove a turning point in people’s lives, marking the moment at which their mobility and health decline irreversibly. Last month the council and clinical commissioning group published a local falls prevention needs assessment – a comprehensive document full of interesting detail. With so many of our scheme members at risk of falling, at NCS we have been systematically doing falls prevention work since 2005, providing information, doing volunteer training and recording the falls prevention interventions our volunteers make. We are looking forward to integrating our work in this field with that of other agencies as part of a systematic local falls prevention strategy.
Capacity: Thomas, Matthew, and Elizabeth all had learning disabilities and poor literacy skills. Anna’s declining memory could be a sign of dementia. In all their cases, they need support in managing some of the practicalities of their lives. Managing even just one’s own life can be very complicated, particularly if you cannot read or do not have access to the internet (the channel for so much information now) or to reliable advice. NCS volunteers can play an important role in looking out for people who require this support, but usually do not have the time or expertise to help people negotiate the complications of complex heath and social care provision. But they can flag their concerns.
Working in Partnership: For people like Thomas, Matthew, Elizabeth and Anna to have lives that are as fulfilling and as dignified as possible as they grow older, they need support. This support needs to come from all sorts of people and organisations. Particularly in these times of cuts in social care services, it is essential that organisations work as effectively as possible together so that no precious support resources are wasted. This requires clear sight, smart working and trust. It can also be complicated as organisations with different remits try to help people with complex needs. But it is worth it. It can make the difference between an old man dying alone and ignored in his flat (see my blog, “Who Cares?”) or looked after in hospital knowing that he is cared for and not forgotten. In the end, this matters.