At the tender age of only 10 months my son and I were both involved in a horrific car accident. I was lucky and escaped with back and leg injuries my son, however, was not so lucky. After being rushed to the hospital and being revived twice because his heart had stopped beating it was confirmed after weeks of tests that he had brain damage, was paralysed down his left side and would probably never walk. After years of physio I am delighted to say 27 years later he can now walk and lives independently. However. At the age of around 7 or 8 it became apparent he had severe memory problems due to the brain damage. Doctors warned me that it was highly probable he would develop early onset dementia because of his brain damage. After researching this condition and feeling complete and utter desperation because of the high probability that he was going to be dealt this cruel blow later in life I then decided that when he was older if possible I would work in this area to learn as much as I could in order to help my son and others with this condition.
After years of working firstly as a cook, then as a care assistant I was lucky enough to get the role of activities co-ordinator in a nearby care home. After settling into my role, getting to know the residents, their background, interests and hobbies I set about organising days out, booking different artists to visit and sourcing engaging and meaningful activities that would appeal to the residents I was caring for that were fun as well as manageable so that caregivers, family and friends could all get involved. My goal was to ensure that both parties felt that quality time had been spent together. I found some fantastic products available that had been adapted to suit the needs and abilities of people living with dementia but, I couldn’t seem to find the more traditional activities such as puzzle books, bingo and card games that the people I was caring for had grown up in simplified forms that could still be enjoyed by people living with dementia and the elderly who were struggling with cognitive decline, memory problems, poor eyesight and mobility problems such as arthritis.
After many months of research, planning and designing, a range of puzzle packs, bingo and card games and adult colouring books were finally created. I believed I could make a difference. These activities needed not only to be fun and age appropriate for our older generation but manageable and traditional, suitably time based for those with limited attention spans and be achievable to give a sense of accomplishment. They also needed to incorporate safety, choice and variety for and create opportunities for quality time and meaningful conversations regardless of disability, age or ability. Most of us have been touched personally by dementia and age related issues at some point in our lives, myself included and all we want for our loved ones is for them to enjoy their lives, to see contentment in their faces, to see smiles and laughter, to know they are safe and cared for with love and compassion.
After some final checks that all the activities were safe and correct I set off to several care homes, day centres for the elderly and facilities for adults with learning difficulties. After introducing myself I asked if the care staff, managers and activity co-ordinators would trial the games and puzzles with residents over the next few weeks and in return give me honest feedback on whether the residents enjoyed them, if they helped to bring about opportunities for times of nostalgia and reminiscence, if they were achievable and if they were safe.
Four weeks later…. (And suddenly feeling very nervous)
I returned to each of the care homes, day centres and facilities for adults with learning difficulties I had initially visited with the activity products and awaited feedback. And…….. they loved them, the residents loved them, even family members had commented on how they were able to sit with their loved ones and enjoy doing puzzles together like they used to. Reminisce over things they had forgotten about because of how the puzzles had helped to evoke and prompt memories from years ago. And when the grandchildren had visited they sat with their grandparents playing the nostalgic pairs card game, and were asking their grandparents about the different pictures and what they were, this gave the residents an immense sense of pride because they could remember these items from their younger days and explain them to their grandchildren. Care staff also commented on the Quick pic bingo games, how because it was a traditional game, with the use of both pictures and words and the length of the game only being 10 to 15 minutes, meant that people with different abilities could all play together. In another care home the puzzle packs were actually used in assessing a resident’s capacity during some tests as the resident showed no interest in the assessor’s material but when care staff brought out the puzzle packs the resident in question happily sat doing the puzzles and engaged in conversation. Staff commented that the puzzle packs were a great traditional activity for people in the early to middle stages of dementia and that residents who struggled with reading and writing had enjoyed the visual puzzles like the mazes, spot the difference and identify puzzles. They observed that the use of subtle hints and clues, and many of the puzzles being in large print, made them so much more achievable for the residents. At the care facility for adults with learning difficulties staff commented that the quick pic bingo was enjoyed by everyone because of its simplicity. and the puzzles with all their different variety, colours, hints and clues were great for times of relaxation. They also loved it that the puzzles could be wiped clean after each use then be used over and over again. When returning to a day centre that provided coffee and activity mornings for older people volunteers said the picture bingo, a slightly lengthier in time and more challenging version than the quick pic bingo, was favoured by their visitors and that this was to be a regular activity during the winter months.
So, after being strongly advised by care professionals that the activities that had been created should be more widely available and with the help from my wonderful partner in the setting up of the website and my brave and courageous son, who helps me to create all these wonderful activities, I have with sadness come away from working in care to continue making a difference in a slightly different way by continuing to source and create activities for people living with this truly heartbreaking disease.
As well as now having a whole range of activities on offer including Arts and Crafts, Sensory and Tactile activities, Film and Music, and activities for special times throughout the year such as Christmas, we are now able to create personalised puzzle and activity packs that can be person-centred, based around an individual’s hobbies, interests, work history, family, favourite music and film and even street names from a time they remember. So, if a resident or loved one is hard to reach and you think a personalised puzzle and activity pack might be something they would enjoy then simply email or phone for more details. www.sandhactivities.co.uk