A metaphoric voice

By Leon A Smith
September 6, 2012

To say that the performance of the athletes at the Paralympics was an inspiration would be an understatement. What sheer strength and strength of character is required for athletes living with a significant disability to be able to perform at the highest possible level in a wide variety of sports. Athleticism, bravery, determination, are but a few of the adjectives which must apply

Having had the pleasure of attending the Paralympics it was inspiring, indeed humbling, to see what the human spirit can achieve. As is often the case in such situations, it helps us considerably in contextualising our own lives. The challenge of course is to remember on a daily basis just how lucky we are that we are not affected by physical or intellectual disabilities.

Many older people who come to live in our care home have serious physical or intellectual health issues. Indeed, by definition, in the main that is why they are here. Yet so many of our residents, notwithstanding these impediments in their lives, still manage to remain positive, cheerful and philosophical about their situation. Many older people seem to possess the ability to remain philosophical and strong. Yes, many older people will say that they feel that they have lived their lives and do not wish to live any longer. But somehow they keep going, and still manage to smile!

Sometimes I feel that the reasons why many of our residents are able to be positive in this way is because they have known such hardship and suffering in their own lives that this has created in them a level of resilience which is not perhaps obvious in younger generations. In reality, of course, one cannot generalise in that way as everybody clearly has their own experiences which help form their character and personality.

Most people enter a care home because they need to do so, because there is no other choice and it is physically impossible and indeed dangerous to remain at home, depending on particular sets of circumstances. Yet there is one choice that still has to be made, that is assuming mental capacity remains, whether or not one is going to be positive about the experience of living in a care home and/or whether one is only going to see the negative.

I like to think that we run excellent care homes at Nightingale Hammerson – but we are not perfect. And certainly anyone wishing to be critical can find things starting usually with the food and indeed as I have mentioned before food can simply be a medium through which to voice more general frustrations.

Some people, however, never complain. They accept their situation, their reality and take a pragmatic view to accept it. It is perhaps these people more than others that we need to look out for. Many older people cannot or will not assert their own views, preferences and/or opinions and it is these people of whom we need to be very aware. Indeed, it may well be that they need advocates to act on their behalf. Advocacy takes many forms. It could be a relative or a friend speaking up on their behalf in order to obtain the service or satisfaction to a complaint. How difficult is it for us to achieve satisfaction when we are dealing with the customer services department of IKEA or a mobile phone company if we experience a problem. How difficult must it be therefore for an older person to be able to articulate themselves in order to gain satisfaction.

That is why it is incumbent on us at all times to ensure that we as a care provider go the extra mile to ensure that not only our residents are receiving the best possible service but they are also given the opportunity to give us their feedback. There are a number of different fora in which feedback on clients can be gathered including surveys (albeit these can be logistically difficult for
residents), open forum meetings or one-to-one interviews.

I know that we are privileged to be working and caring for those older people who need our care and it is vital that we ensure that at no time regardless of health that they ever lose their “metaphoric” voice.

In society generally the voices of older people are not well heard. Indeed one cannot help reflect that if older people were to vote on “older people’s” political issues the government may well sit up and take notice of their concerns. Sadly that is unlikely to happen.


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