When working in care homes there are two words that no members of staff like to hear. Risk Assessment. ‘Have you filled out a Risk Assessment form?’ I was frequently being asked by my superiors’ every time I suggested an activity with a resident. In the early days of my career, thinking of new things to do to stimulate people living with dementia was hard enough, let alone all the paperwork that had to accompany it. We seem to have an attitude in care that Risk Assessments are just another barrier, a spoke in the wheel so to speak. There is always the challenge that we are living in a nanny state and that perhaps we assess too much, so much so we take the fun out of things. However, as a friend of mine pointed out once, they really should be considered differently. Risk Assessments are there to allow us do things in care and should not be considered a barrier. This is a story that made me change my mind and saw me thinking differently about the concept of risk and what we can achieve when looking after people living with dementia.
I first met Eileen in 2010 whilst working as an Activity-Coordinator in a care home. She had been living there for some years and always seemed a very easy going person who enjoyed listening to music, especially Cliff Richard. Her family informed me that she had been a life-long fan of the musician and that it had always been a dream of hers to see him perform live. Sadly, as Eileen was now living with dementia in a care home they didn’t feel that this was going to be possible anymore.
When I learnt that Sir. Cliff himself was to perform his ‘Soulicious Tour’ at the O2 Arena in 2011, I enquired with my peers and colleagues to perhaps get tickets and take Eileen to see him. Here is a list of the following responses…
What if she gets lost? What if she falls over? What if she gets hurt? What if it’s too loud? What about her medication? How will you get there? Do you know how much those tickets cost? What about walking from the car park? What about wheelchair access? What about being up late? What if she gets scared? What if she feels intimidated and wants to leave? What if she doesn’t want to come home again? Food and Drink? Toilets? MAR Sheets? Spending Money?
And perhaps the most hurtful thing…
What’s the point? She won’t remember going!
The following day I spent six hours completing all the risk assessments, contacted the family and bought us tickets for the show. Eileen was overjoyed!
And so we went to see Cliff Richard perform for three hours and Eileen had a marvellous time. She bought herself some memorabilia (a T-Shirt, a program and, of all things, a cushion cover), drank a large pint of Stella Artois and even got told off by security for dancing. Quite what they thought a 78 year old lady would do to incite a riot is beyond me, but Eileen still got a cheer from the crowd.
After the show we travelled home and Eileen was far too excited to go to bed so she stayed up and chatted to the night staff. The following Monday I went into work and found Eileen wearing her Cliff Richard T-shirt.
‘Where did you get that from?’ I heard someone ask her.
‘From the concert the other night.’ I heard her reply.
She then came up to me and thanked me for taking her. So she remembered going to the concert? Throughout the week I heard her family talk to her about the show as she took to wearing her T-shirt most days. This was my first encounter of someone living with advanced stages of dementia and being able to recall an event in some detail. A few weeks later I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Oliver, a head teacher from Kent 'living with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease’ who is now the dementia envoy for the NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust and asked him about Eileen remembering the concert. He suggested that where the music was involved, the concert had had such an emotive impact on her that she very well made new memories of seeing the show.
I thought this to be a bit of a breakthrough where local dementia awareness was concerned so I wrote to the local paper. They printed the story much to the delight of Eileen and her family. Some how, the story managed to reach certain people who knew Cliff Richard’s Tour Management who then passed on the story to Sir. Cliff himself. He read the story and wrote a letter to Eileen thanking her for coming to see his show and wishing her a 'Merry Christmas'. That letter is now framed with the newspaper article and Eileen’s concert ticket. Not only is it a conversation stimulator for new members of staff but it brings a smile to Eileen’s face every time she see’s it.
I hope that this story can inspire other care staff to see the benefit of risk assessments and not to see them as just a barrier. I also hope this story will encourage others to see that people, even living in the later stages of dementia, can still achieve their dreams.
Ashley Roberts, 2015.
Photograph courtesy of Ashley Roberts.
Ashley Roberts is an accredited Dementia Care Instructor and Director of Dementia Inspired ltd.