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Caring Times Christmas Lunch 2021

09 Dec 2021

The Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London


By guest blogger JEF SMITH

Consider the following quotation from a recent letter to the Guardian newspaper: “I can’t sing but I enjoy making a noise with others at this friendly group. We are invited to sing at old people’s homes and have a wonderful time”.

What left me outraged with the author of those words was the idea that it’s perfectly permissible to have ‘a wonderful time’ imposing discordant ‘noise’ on elderly people in care. Much has been made of the therapeutic value of music but I doubt whether any of those captive listeners benefited from that experience; if they like music they deserve something more professional than this selfish exercise, made all the more unappealing by the fact that the writer seems to think that he and his fellow warblers were doing the residents a good turn. (Who, by the way, ‘invited’ them?).

Similarly patronising attitudes were evident in another piece, published a few days earlier, this one in the Daily Telegraph. It commented approvingly on a study which had found that 44% of care homes have ‘a bar or drinking area’ where residents can consume alcohol. Well I never! What will those saucy old folk get up to next? One home’s activities organiser was quoted as saying, with positively embarrassing condescension, ‘just watching residents enjoying themselves, chatting and playing games whilst having a drink or two was so lovely’.

The satisfaction of looking at older people having a tipple is not, however, available to all staff. In many homes, the writer reported, residents’ alcohol consumption is strictly limited, in 18% to just one unit a night. 21% of care workers reported that in their homes ‘no alcohol at all is permitted on the premises’. I accept that some older people would be well advised – not obliged, it’s their decision – to limit their drinking. In addition a few homes might operate an alcohol free regime as a matter of well advertised principle. But it is surely appalling that over a fifth of residents cannot exercise what most of us consider the basic right of deciding for ourselves whether and when we drink alcohol.

What these two stories illustrate is that many homes, through insensitive attempts at entertainment or needlessly puritanical regulations, are still failing to provide a truly fulfilling social life for their residents. The care homes quoted in both articles had either good or outstanding CQC ratings, so what on earth must be going on in those other places judged to be needing improvement or inadequate?

A new home is shortly to open near to where I live. On a billboard outside our local tube station, the managing company promises ‘fine dining’, ‘balcony gardens’ and an ‘art studio’. Once it’s operational I think I’ll ask for a tour – I might even bluff my way into sampling the allegedly delicious food and drink – and I’ll be the first to give them credit if their claim to be offering a socially satisfying lifestyle proves to be true. I just hope they don’t force anyone to listen to talentless choirs without even the comfort of alcohol as a distraction.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

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