Shall we just change the music?

When I was about 3 years old I was taken to Rubery to see Grandpa. He had become too difficult to manage at home and so he had entered this great Victorian edifice where he now sat on a bench, in a courtyard with a fellow inmate. Beyond that I remember only that he gave me thruppence. I didn’t know it at the time but it was my first experience of somebody in residential care. Until very recently I had little to do with care homes beyond that early childhood memory.

When the market place for care was created there was an aunt who we would visit weekly in one of the Georgian houses that had been converted; it was, to all intents and purposes, like one of those bed and breakfast establishments at the sea side, except that it was on the main Worcester Road in Stourbridge, about as far from the sea as you could get. Each day the residents, who were very well looked after, were assembled in the front room. The television was on with the sound turned down and sometimes there would be a CD player playing Vera Lynn or Glen Miller. I remember a particular lady who sat by the Aunt in question and one day I attempted to strike up a conversation by asking how she was; she replied: “Yo doe cum ‘ere to get better,” and she resumed her contemplation.

More recently, like many people, I have had the experience of finding residential care for my mother. Mother, or Mum as we call her, came to a point where she required 24 hour nursing care so it was a little more extreme than just finding somewhere where she would be looked after and be happy and safe. We compiled a list and then set off on the round of telephone calls and visits by appointment. In many, not all, of the places we visited the residents sat in a large sitting room; sometimes the TV was on, sometimes it wasn’t but always there was that music from the 30’s and 40’s playing somewhere in the house.

It was my wife who posed the question: what sort of care home would we want? I was about to give some trite reply when I stopped to think. I wouldn’t want to give up technology just because I was in a care home. I would want access to the internet to be able to e-mail, skype, facetime with the grand children, use social media, post photographs, look up stuff, get my newspapers, buy books, watch films and access my bank account. I spend an awful lot of time connected to the outside world.

Then there are the other benefits, permanent access to my GP so he can monitor my medication (presumably I will be on medication by then) check my blood pressure, keep an eye on my heart. I would want to monitor the impact of my activity, keep an eye on my diet. Even if I couldn’t do all of these things, even if I no longer functioned 100% some of this would be relevant. Surely my world would still be personalised in some way even if I couldn’t look after myself, alone.

We tend to think of the digital world in terms of young and productive people with recognition that it has an important role for older people so it’s worth the effort of getting them online. There are a notional 17% of people who are classed as digitally excluded and there are efforts underway to address that final, small percentage. Should we put some thought into how we provision facilities for people’s final years? I don’t mean as a “nice to have” or an “added benefit” but as a right of access. There will be a cost: how do you provide secure access to online services for older people who live in a large establishment? What skills do you need to provide for the care staff? Will care homes require an IT specialist or a support company? Will the cost be met through the recovery of care costs? Is this to be a luxury for people who can afford it as an extra and will local authorities who meet the 12 week property disregard refuse to pay for an unnecessary option? Whichever way you look at it this is more than just providing WiFi access in the residents’ lounge.

Or do we just change the music?

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