Salvation Army project helps people with dementia

published on 11 Jun 2018

Resident Sally and her sister Doreen

Staff at a Salvation Army care home are improving the lives of residents by bringing a bit of Hollywood to Holywood.

With the number of residents living with dementia at Sir Samuel Kelly Memorial Care Home at an all-time high, staff were keen to do something special to transform their lives.

Last September the staff team brought in a dementia specialist and set about replacing the decor with a 1960s Hollywood-style look, complete with rooms that resemble little cottages, a cinema, hair salon and village shop.

The Salvation Army home just outside Belfast specialises in a range of care for older people who can no longer live independently. The transformation of the home has been praised by residents and their families who say it has already had a huge positive impact on their wellbeing.

One resident who loves the new look is Sally Watts, from Belfast. The 76-year-old moved into the home last August and her sister Doreen Elliot reckons it has given her a new lease of life.

“It was difficult for Sally at first,” says Doreen. “Sally had lived in her own home and was always so independent. But her dementia meant she could no longer stay by herself so we were referred here by the local health trust. Sally has grown to love this place, as have I. I’m down here four or five times a week and it’s a lovely little community. A haven. There’s a real love from The Salvation Army towards residents and families. It gives you peace of mind that she’s looked after and now I wouldn’t have her anywhere else. It’s as if someone had lifted a weight off my shoulders.

“And to make it even better, the home has been given a lovely makeover and as you can see it looks incredible. Sally loves it as well, especially her memory box, which she has filled with things from her working days. ”

Sharron Cushley, acting manager at The Salvation Army care home, says the new interior design now matches the high standard of care that has long been delivered by staff.

“We’ve always focussed on the care we give to residents - we probably didn’t give the decor as much thought as we would have liked,” says Sharron.

“But the more we have cared for people who have dementia, the more we have realised that their environment plays a big part in their day-to-day wellbeing. So we brought in a company called Dementia Training Company and worked with them to create the bones of a plan to revamp the home. The staff did the rest by working with residents and families to decide on the kind of look they wanted. We have renamed our floors Hollywood Boulevard and Poppy Lane. The outside of each room is decorated like a little cottage and there are memory boxes at the front containing things that are important to that resident.

“We’ve also created a cinema showing old movies and fitted out rooms as a village shop and a beauty salon.

“The home is designed to be a therapeutic and calming space where we can tap into memories from people’s pasts. Evoking fond memories can help stop people with dementia from becoming confused and stressed.”

Sharron added: “Dementia can be a cruel and heartbreaking illness for families to come to terms with. At Sir Samuel Kelly’s we care for people with severe forms of the illness, such as Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s Disease.

“We don’t believe the diagnosis of dementia should mean the end of people’s lives though. Our job is to help residents and their families live well with dementia. Our programme includes regular prayer services, a relaxation room, a kitchen where residents can do some baking, and a beauty salon for men as well as women to come and get their hair done and feel good.

“Touch is also a big thing here. Sometimes people with dementia cannot understand what you’re saying. Add to that a visual impairment and it can be difficult for some residents to communicate. But touch can make them feel reassured. Related to this is the doll therapy we use. The dolls are very lifelike and help to bring back happy memories of parenthood and of being useful and needed.

“We’re now seeing more and more residents whose parents also stayed. We had one woman who brought her dad in about 10 years ago. She was very active and vibrant but she’s now here because she can’t live by herself.”

Sharron’s own mum Sadie (Watters) was a resident at Sir Samuel Kelly’s briefly and Sharron admits even she found it difficult to cope with her mum’s loss of independence.

“It broke my heart,” says Sharron. “But my colleagues were incredibly supportive. My mum had always vowed to never be in a care home. But she left with a sense that it wouldn’t be daunting if she had to be a resident here on a full-time basis. The whole experience was humbling and gave me a deeper insight into how families feel.”