A Bard’s View on Dementia


April is Poetry Month, at least in the USA. Over here we tend to join in but maintain our British feeling of literary superiority because our lists of poems and famous poets are much longer than those of our American cousins and I’m pretty sure that most of us can quote a line or two from Wordsworth. Poetry is designed to make the beauty of words visible and I had recently come across some poems written by a senior governance nurse, Karen Tidy, that focus not on daffodils or clouds, but dementia care.  A subject that is not the most obvious to write verses about.

Karen is at the centre of Evolve Care Group and supports 6 care and nursing homes, one of which is Gibraltar Nursing Home, in Monmouth, and I thought her poems offered a fascinating insight into the world of dementia care.  As a senior governance nurse her work involves supporting everyone within all the homes to maintain their best physical and emotional well-being.

The individuals that Karen supports at Gibraltar are always referred to as family members and some happen to live with dementia which is a difficult condition that gradually erodes all the nuances and subtleties that make you who you are. The home uses a “Household Model of Care” which aims to create a true continuation of home life and means that choice and remaining independent for as long as possible is at the forefront of everything they do.

I was interested in discovering how such a dark subject could inspire Karen and ask, in this age of watching movies on our phones and having Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest, is there is still a place for writing poetry in the 21st Century?

When I met Karen, I noted that she had kind, smiling eyes and a shy disposition. Within seconds of me asking how she got into caring, she told me how her father had passed away when she was just ten, she immediately embraced the role of caring for her siblings which made the move into professional caring a logical and natural step for her as soon as she was old enough.  She talked passionately about how much she loves what she does and being in the homes, helping people is second nature to her.  She says that knowing that she is making a real difference keeps her going.

Her love of poetry comes purely from her emotions and the words seem to simply pop into her head, prompted by what she sees, feels or hears. She finds it hard to write planned poetry, much preferring to write rhyming lines spontaneously.  I was busy scrawling my notes trying to keep up with her when she said something that struck me as poignant.

She explained that a few years ago, she had been on a specialist course that taught end of life care and said that seeing people confined to their beds who were unable to verbalise got her wondering what they were thinking and feeling. She says it is imperative that the people she cares for are still spoken to and included in discussions. As soon as you stop doing that, she explained, the person becomes part of a conveyer belt system, on their way to their end.

She also became acutely aware of how hard it must be for them to lie in bed and hear laughter from passers-by in the hallways outside.

She concluded by saying that caring is like music. A silent music, and the most important thing for a carer is to have a big heart. I knew at that point that we need more carers like Karen, who gives a new meaning to the term nursing care. And in case you’re wondering, yes, there is a place for poetry in the 21st Century.

An excerpt from Let’s Just Get It Right ©Karen Tidy 2016

The level of care and support that we give,

Dictates the standard of life that they live.

Time and attention, and a listening ear

Will dictate a plan of care that is clear.

Likes and dislikes, one sugar or two,

Walk with a Zimmer, with slippers or shoes.

A bath or a shower, which they like best,

A bra, a T-shirt or old stringy vest.

To eat at the table, with a spoon or a fork,

To sit there in silence or choosing to talk.

“I like rice, not potatoes, crackers not bread

Coffee not tea, I like that instead.”

Oh, please give me choices,

I know I can’t speak

Then show me a picture of what I may eat.

Wearing my night wear on top of my clothes,

Or my makeup all smudgy right over my nose.

Does this really matter? At least I have tried,

And managed to maintain independence and pride.

When I go to the toilet, please give me a chance,

Don’t stand there and hold me, then pull down my pants.

You make me feel frightened, you fill me with fright,

Then I just react with a kick and a fight,

And then I am labelled – it’s not really my fault

It’s a natural response to a downright assault.


Home Helps Former Nurse Celebrate International Nurses’ Day

Hospitals and care homes across the country celebrated International Nurses Day on 12th May but it is not just practicing nurses who joined in, but former nurses, too.

Gibraltar Nursing Home in Monmouth are delighted to have a retired SRN nurse living with them. Barbara Jones (nee Morgan) is 86-years-old and started her training to be a nurse in 1951 when she was just eighteen. She worked at the Royal Gwent hospital in 1952 before becoming a district nurse in the early 1960s, based at the Caer Mawr Road Surgery in Caldicot.

She was a nurse for 40 years until illness meant she had to retire in 1989. Her daughter, Ruth Bishop, said she was much loved by her colleagues and patients, many of whom still fondly remember her.

In 2016 Barbara moved to Gibraltar Nursing Home in Monmouth and immediately she felt the difference between a home from yesteryear and to the home of today. Gone were the days of an institution, and in came no uniforms, no set mealtimes, no lights out by ten, and fine décor as you would expect when walking into anyone’s home. You felt safe, comfortable and a sense of belonging as you walked around. The care is always person-centred and previous life histories are celebrated and the home puts choice and remaining independent for as long as possible at the forefront of everything.

When asked if this was very different to the type of care offered when she started nursing, Barbara nodded her agreement. The methods are certainly much better, now and it was a lot stricter when she started but she always tried to nurse with kindness.

There have been some huge advances in medicine since Barbara started her training. The amount of time spent in hospital recovering after operations has reduced hugely and diseases such as smallpox and polio have now disappeared in the UK. Barbara says the Care Team at the nursing home are excellent. High praise indeed, coming from somebody that knows more than most about health care.

The 12th May was chosen to celebrate Nurses Day as it is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth, so perfect for celebrating the role of nurses everywhere. Most people agree that it’s a beautiful thing when a career and passion can come together. Claire Knight, Clinical Lead at Gibraltar Nursing Home, agrees. She said: “International Nurses Day presented us with the perfect opportunity to say thank you to Barbara because she dedicated her life to caring for others and as carers and nurses ourselves, we really wanted to help her celebrate.

Family Member Has a Boat Named After Him

One of Our Family Members has a Boat Named after Him

All of Gibraltar Nursing Home’s family members are loved and accepted for who they are, always treated with dignity and given as much independence as possible. And all are considered legends, but only one is a legend in the world of rowing and has recently had a boat named after him!

83-year-old, John Hartland has been living at Gibraltar for the last four years and has an astonishing life history. He was the Master In charge of rowing at Monmouth School for Boys' Rowing Club for nearly 30 years and formed the Monmouth School for Girls Rowing Club in 1990. He also led the Welsh rowing team to the 1986 Commonwealth Games and was chairman of Welsh Rowing for helping more than 30 Monmouth rowers go on to win GB caps, including Olympic medallists Colin Moynihan and Charlie Wiggin, double Olympic gold medal coach Robin Williams, and his own son, two-time world medallist, James Hartland.
John and his family decided he would move to Gibraltar after discovering he lived with Alzheimer’s which is a condition the home is excellent in providing care for. Gibraltar boasts a home from home feel with stylish décor, along with a hydrotherapy pool, cinema and restaurant, or private dining if preferred.

On Saturday 6th April 2019, a sleek, new racing 8 was named after him in a ceremony at Monmouth Boys School Rowing Club. At the naming were Olympic medallist Charlie Wiggin and former Cambridge Boat Race chief coach, Robin Williams, who guided the GB women's pair to two Olympic golds.
John’s wife, Ann Hartland, grandsons, Ben and Will, daughter, Kate Callaghan, the Head of Rowing at Monmouth School for Girls, and son, British veteran champion, Nick Hartland were there and watched proudly as Anne christened the boat with champagne, pleasing the large crowd of well-wishers that had assembled.
John Griffiths from Monmouth Boys' School said, “This is the first new empacher eight that has been bought by any club in Wales and it is fitting that it should be named after a man that did so much for Welsh rowing.”
Son, Nick Hartland said, "As a family, we’re all delighted with this honour for Dad and he will be touched when I tell him how many came to the naming of this fantastic new racing eight.”
He went on to say “There were some huge achievements for John; a first 8s appearance and race win at Henley Royal Regatta in the 1960s, a Henley semi-final in the 1980s, and a first-ever National Schools Championship title.”
“Although he couldn’t attend the ceremony, the sport and the River Wye flow through his veins and the fact that the rowing club has seen fit to name the boat after him, will take his link with the club into the future.”
A large portion of the sizable crowd at the ceremony were rowers and he concluded by saying “With Dad’s name on the bows, he will be there in spirit, rowing every single stroke with you.”

Jerry Short, from the home, attended the naming and said “ What he has done for, not just rowing, but for Wales, too, is truly remarkable and I know that every single member of the Gibraltar Care Team and all the other family members in the home, are very proud of him, and delighted, that he is living with us.”

Gibraltar Nursing Home, wins second 5-star rating

The kitchens at Gibraltar Nursing Home in Monmouth were awarded a maximum 5-star hygiene rating for the 2nd year running when they were visited by a Food Standards Agency inspector on Wednesday, 27th February 2019.
Head Chef, Rosemary Mecklenburgh, said she was delighted with the rating and said it was due to her hard-working team. “I am so proud of them. As a busy chef, it is vital that our kitchens are kept spotlessly clean and that we always offer choices that are both healthy and tasty.” She went on to say that on Fridays they always offer a fish dish with mushy peas and chips, but every part will be home-made. We like to do things properly here. It’s nothing but the best for our family members.” The home offers 3 daily choices and that will always include a plant-based dish. “These days, vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular.”
The home has 95-beds, so to cook that many meals, the kitchens are humming with activity for much of the day. Rosemary has worked off and on at the home for the last six years and when asked how she felt when she heard about the rating she smiled, before saying “Very, very, proud"

In the photo,  L-R, Kitchen Assistant, Debbie Taylor, Head Chef, Rosemary Mecklenburgh and Kitchen Porter, Maggie Pritchard

Valerie’s Stress Free Move

Care Writer, Jerry Short, visited Gibraltar Nursing Home to talk to their newest family member, 86-year old Valerie Jacques, to find out how the change to living in the newly refurbished nursing home had gone for her.
He said “Gibraltar is nestled at the top of a hill overlooking, not the sparkling Mediterranean as the name might imply, but the more Celtic vista of Monmouth.
“Moving into a care home is one of life’s biggest moves, akin to moving out of your parent’s house. I was keen to find out how it had gone for her, as big moves can be stressful and at 86, stress is the last thing Valerie would have wanted.

The welcome I received when I arrived in the reception area was as warm as an Iberian summer. I explained that I was visiting Valerie, who had moved in just twelve days prior to my arrival. Gibraltar always refers to their residents as family members and operates as being a real home from home. For example, the care team chose to wear comfortable, everyday clothes instead of uniforms, and family members are given as much independence as possible and can make drinks or snacks in small “family-type” kitchens, whenever they want. The home feels as much like a family house as possible.

As I walked through the home, I noticed one of the dining rooms had a group of bridge players battling it out, their laughter followed me down the hallway. I had no idea bridge was such a fun game. We walked on past a library, a cinema and even a heated hydrotherapy pool.
Valerie’s room was warm and comfortable and after being introduced, I asked if she had settled in yet. She nodded.
“Oh yes, I was made to feel welcome as soon as I arrived” she told me. “I moved here after having a few falls, so we thought it best for me to move to Gibraltar where they understand limited mobility.” She smiled and leaned forward in her wheelchair.
“Within a very short time,” she continued, “I felt supported and confident enough to be able to walk to my bathroom with just a walking-frame. I hadn’t been able to do that for ages.”
I asked her how she passed her time in the home. “I enjoy the music,” she told me, “I even joined in, despite the fact I can’t sing”. She also said she loved reading the broadsheets. “I’m a bit of a snob” she teased, “I do like keeping informed. But what I really like most is chatting. I can talk all day. Ask anyone here what I’m like and they’ll tell you what a chatterbox I am.”

Valerie explained that she had learned to talk to older people when she worked as a pension advisor.
I asked her if the move into Gibraltar had gone easily. “Yes, they know what they’re doing here,” she told me, going on to say she felt welcome and included. Inclusion is a key part of maintaining everyone’s well-being.
She added “I’m really looking forward to the weather warming up as I’ve heard they have great BBQs here.” I follow her gaze out across the misty treetops through the window and I am sure we are both imagining hot food sizzling. As I walked back along the hallway, I make a note to myself to come back in the summer to revisit Valerie, hopefully on a BBQ day.
Jerry Short, Care Writer.

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