A more personal approach to respite dementia care

Respite care away from home tends to mean a short stay in a care home. However, Heather Stephen met one carer who found that a more personal approach works better for her and her husband.

Caring for someone with dementia isn't easy and a short break from it can be just what's needed to recharge and carry on.

Pat and Roger Criddle

Options for overnight respite care away from home usually involve a short-term stay in a care home. This can work well for some, but interest is growing in a more personal service where people with dementia can stay over at the home of a specially trained carer.

Specialist service

Shared Lives South West covers the local authority areas of Devon, Torbay, Plymouth and Cornwall, and it first pioneered a home scheme tailored for people affected by dementia two years ago. Since then 40 other areas around the UK are looking into offering the service.

Shared Lives has traditionally offered support to carers of people with learning disabilities, but Shared Lives South West thinks this approach can work equally well for people affected by dementia.

Carer Pat Criddle would certainly give the scheme her seal of approval. She says,

'After my husband Roger was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2000, I organised respite care quite quickly so he could get used to doing things without me and I could get some time to myself.

'He started going to a day care centre and sometimes stayed overnight in a home but we had some horrendous experiences there. I would give the home a list of his care needs but they completely ignored it and it would take me about two weeks to get Roger back into his routine.'

Like a holiday

Pat was relieved to find out about the Shared Lives scheme at a carers' meeting a few years ago.

'When I heard about the scheme I thought it would suit Roger far more as it was more homely, so I contacted social services who put me in touch with two different carers. I chose Kay Rhodes as she has such a good sense of humour and I knew Roger would get on with her.'

Roger met Kay for a cup of tea at her home before going for his first week-long break there two years ago and Pat says they hit it off straightaway.

'I can always tell if Roger likes someone by how much he talks and he just didn't stop chatting with Kay. I knew he felt comfortable with her which is really important.'

Social services funds Roger to stay at Kay's home up to 28 days a year. This break allows Pat to get away for three or four days to visit her children and grandchildren.

'I have felt guilty about leaving Roger in the past but I have every faith and trust in Kay. They have a real rapport and she really spoils him.

'He gets taken out for lunch and coffee and he gets a big fry up for his breakfast. He says it's like being on holiday! I would never go back to respite in a care home. Knowing I am leaving Roger with someone who knows and cares about him makes all the difference.'

Happy family

Kay has been a Shared Lives carer for three years. She worked in a nursing home before but much prefers the opportunity to build up a close relationship with the person she is caring for.

She says,

'This job is like being part of a happy family. You really get to know people and I always look forward to them coming back.

'In a home people might have different staff looking after them every time they go, and for people with dementia that can be frightening. I make sure I keep to Roger's routine and Pat can enjoy her holiday knowing he is safe.

'I cared for my aunt who had dementia for four years so I know how hard it can be, but because I can take the pressure off Pat four times a year she is able to cope with life.'

Kay adds,

'She says as long as she's got me she will be able to carry on looking after Roger herself and you can't get much more rewarding than that.'

To find out more about Shared Lives and whether it operates in your area, see www.sharedlivessw.org.uk or contact your local social services department.

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