The pirouette has stopped in a very brave new world.
I have completed my first “tour of duty” and returned home tired, elated and thankful of so much in my home life including the solitude of my own company. Being in a household with at least two other people for 14 days has left me with a greater appreciation of my own company and I returned home feeling less discontent with my solo lifestyle.
For those that have harboured fears about my new adventure, don´t, as I am sure this is the right move for me.
The pirouette, heady and fast as ever, came to its conclusion and I found myself in the South West of England, in a charming and quaint riverside village in Devon.
The differentness of village life to my usual one of the sun, sea and sangria of Spain´s Costa del Sol is immediately evident and I have wallowed in the tranquil, easy-going friendliness of the locals albeit conscious of the somewhat nosey element of “you´re new, who are you and who are you staying with” which is also a given in village communities.
Living in care necessitates being on call 24/7 and as such, is the most all-encompassing and intense work role I have ever encountered. I was quickly immersed in the lives of my clients and their family with no time to assess or plan or write to-do lists or do any of the things my methodical brain usually does. It is the epitome of think and act on your feet, juggling household chores with physical care and supervision and understanding the psyche of the clients as quickly as possible to tailor my actions and words to suit their two very different needs and issues. I am working with a husband and wife, both adorable, charming people with very different needs.
My working role is about providing the physical support and assistance needed EG: maintaining household chores such as washing, ironing, cooking and meal preparation plus personal care with washing, toileting dressing etc. But more than that, it is about understanding the client´s diagnosed conditions (dementia at differing levels between the two of them) and ensuring their safety, comfort and wellbeing within the parameters of their conditions. The rule of thumb is to encourage independent living and decision making wherever possible whilst being aware and to protect against inherent risks.
Dementia immediately sprang out at me as a fascinating (if heartbreaking) field as soon as I started preparation for the job. The company I work with endorses the techniques pioneered by a daughter who learned, through her experiences with her mother, the best methods of coping and went onto develop what is now a fully accredited and acclaimed system of care, entitled SPECAL. More information can be found http://www.contenteddementiatrust.org/.
My simplistic take on the range of different types of dementia: Alzheimers, Vascular, Lewy bodies, Parkinsons etc is that the core issue remains the same IE: the loss of the ability to record and therefore recall, recent events. Each client will experience a differing level of the core issue and therefore close individual attention is necessary.
The other important fact is that whilst the memory of very recent events may not exist (the brain has lost the ability to record things) the earlier memories are all intact and they are there to be accessed. That is why dementia patients will be able to recall and sometimes believe they are living in earlier times.
I am no expert and will continue to study the topic fully as it holds a fascination with me but the excellent advice and guidelines I have been given through studying the SPECAL method did allow me to spend a great deal of time with my clients back in the wartime era of the early forties, where I was regaled with tales and stories that are both informative and interesting.
In summary, my first tour of duty was hard work, in that it was a totally different regime of living and working, enjoyable, rewarding and had the added bonus of my two-hour daily break being spent in a picturesque country village where locally made ice creams screamed EAT ME from every corner!
The return to Spain has been interesting and bodes well for the future. I have been able to totally detach myself from the placement on leaving and fully focus on myself and my need for downtime. As I mentioned I returned with a new respect for solitude, never has a bath and a glass of wine been so good (there is zero alcohol intake whilst on duty despite my client´s request that I join him in a glass of red!) and my writing … well, let´s simply say my mornings are very full of my adventures in the thirteenth century!