They used to be called “God’s Waiting Room” and lines of lifeless pensioners sitting doing nothing conjured up a depressing vision of the rolling credits on a once vibrant person’s life.
The wall full of photographs at the entrance of Oaklands care home at Scole, near Diss, reassuringly shows just how far things have moved on from those days of One Foot in the Grave.
People are shopping, sitting in a pub, painting, taking part in games, walking dogs and, yes, they are all smiling.
With increasing numbers of people far outstripping their three score years and 10, but many living on with debilitating conditions 850,000 people in the UK have dementia today the demand for care homes is growing.
However, for a generation used to a far more comfortable lifestyle than even their parents had, God’s Waiting Room will no longer do.
Oaklands manager Helen Gosling says: “It’s no longer the case that life stops when you come in a care home.
“The philosophy today is about the care home adapting to the individual rather than the individual adapting to the care home.
“We fit into the routine of the resident, from what time they like to get up, to what activities they like to do; it is about getting to know their individual preferences.”
Key to putting the fun factor into life at Oaklands has been Tania Amies, who last November won Activities Co-ordinator of the Year at the National Dementia Care
Awards. Responsible for all the happy snaps in the entrance hall, she describes her role as “clown, artist, music maker, joker, gardener, baker, shopper, tea maker and friend”.
“When people come into a care home they don’t have to stop doing the things they enjoy,” she says. “There is a perception that people with dementia just forget things and can’t learn new skills, but my experience has proved that is not true.
“One gentleman had never painted in his life before he came here, according to his wife, but now he loves to paint anything and everything.” Tania adds that one of their female residents has enjoyed a remarkable new lease of life since her arrival at Oaklands. “She had gone into her shell after losing her husband but now she loves socialising with others again and enjoys all kinds of activities and games.
“Her own family has been quite astounded by the change.” Last weekend, Tania was leading the home’s eagerly awaited participation in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’s Big Garden Birdwatch.
“We get all sorts of birds in our garden and our residents love watching them out of the conservatory,” she says. Tania’s 11 year-old labrador Mollie has also helped her get it licked when it comes to enhancing the lives of residents.
She says: “The residents love to cuddle the small dogs we have come in but with Mollie they enjoy taking her for a walk in the garden or playing fetch with her. “One of our residents used to breed dogs and compete at Crufts. Sometimes she says, ‘I have got to go and walk the dogs’, and that is the cue for us to go outside with Mollie.”
Many of the residents have deme and interaction with the dogs has delivered a calming effect at times when they are distressed or agitate “We have even been able to includ pet therapy in the care plans of cer residents,” says Tania, who describ her role as “the best job ever”.
“What you get back is tremendously motivating. As soon as I arrived at Oaklands
12 months ago I felt I had found my vocation,” she adds. Paying tribute to her, one relative said: “The moments of joy Tania brings to my 94-year-old mum’s life are nothing short of miraculous.”