What’s one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of a social worker? ‘They put old people in homes’ is often the reply. But as we’ve said many times before, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Our goal as social workers is to keep people as independent as possible for as long as possible. We will try every other possible option to let someone stay in their own home before we would discuss residential care (a care home). In Walsall especially we are working hard to be creative and ‘think outside the box’ to offer people ideas and options to stay living in their own homes, in their own communities for as long as they can.
Often family members and older or disabled people themselves think that a care home is the only option once someone starts to get a bit frail or struggles to cope. But there are so many more options!! We can suggest equipment that can help with day-to-day tasks like making a drink, taking medication and getting dressed. There are many agencies and voluntary groups that specialise in cleaning, maintenance and gardening for people who can’t do this themselves. There are agencies that will do ‘befriending’, which is a fancy word for people coming in and having a chat with someone who may be lonely or isolated. We can support people who are able to find training or employment. For people who are eligible for social care funding they can hire a personal assistant, a care agency or a mixture of both. Either way, they are in charge of the care they get and they can say who they want supporting them, what they want them to do and when.
Of course if someone really can’t cope any longer we will look into care home options with them and urge them to seek advice from the Care Quality Commission as well as our own Quality Assurance Team to make sure they find good quality care that suits them. But there are so many more options in between!
A couple in their 70s and 80s was having a chat with us at a local doctor’s surgery where we’re based once a week. The husband showed us a brochure for a care home and said ‘What do you think of this?’ We queried why he was thinking about a care home. He said, we can’t cope anymore and we’re going to sell the house and move. We arranged to see them to talk about what they were struggling with.
It turns out that they were coping quite well. They both have arthritis and both use walking sticks to help them get around. They also still drive which means they do get out and about when they want to. For things like washing and getting dressed and making meals, they were helping each other out and managing quite well. They do have some trouble getting up and down stairs and they bought some equipment to help with this. We arranged for a visit from one of our occupational therapists (OTs) to check whether it was the right equipment or whether they needed anything else. We suggested a few more basic things that could help them around the house, like a trolley. We are also helping them to apply for a disabled facilities grant (DFG). This could help them to convert one of their downstairs rooms into a toilet or shower room. Our Neighbourhood Community Officers (NCOs) also came to help sort out their benefits to make sure they were getting any additional money they were entitled to.
On our visit we also found out that the couple used to tour the country as singers/musicians in a jazz band. Over the years they lost touch with their fellow band members and friends and they were really longing to re-connect with them and share memories of the old days. We did a bit of research on the internet and found a retired jazz musicians’ group inBirmingham. We put them in touch with the couple and they managed to find some old photographs of them in their performing days as well as some of their old musician mates! The couple are over the moon and are currently putting together a photo album and arranging to meet their old friends.
As you can see this couple are far from needing a residential home. As social workers we must help people focus on what they can do and work with that, rather than dwelling on the things people can’t do. If the time ever comes that they need more support or they really can no longer cope, we will help them to find the best care for them. But they are coping brilliantly at the moment which is music to everyone’s ears!