Debbie Gilard, Head of Corporate Services at Quantum Care, discusses how the public can make a big change with small gestures.
Despite being involved in social care for over 25 years, every year I find myself in awe at how care home staff at all levels come together to make the festive season magical for residents.
This time of year is always a busy one for care homes, with staff putting in extra effort – and hours – to make Christmas events and activities that much more special for our residents.
It’s all part of our mission to make the home away from home feel, well, homelier.
It’s when I hear stories from residents like Ruth, an 89-year-old who moved into one of our care homes last year, that I know our work is worthwhile.
Before joining Jubilee Court care home, Ruth spent most of her days alone. Her husband had passed away and she didn’t have any children. Christmas had been her favourite time of year, but after her husband died she didn’t have anyone to enjoy it with. After a while, she simply couldn’t bring herself to celebrate.
This will be Ruth’s first Christmas with Quantum Care and we’ve already seen an amazing change in how she views the festive season. Now, instead of feeling sad when she talks about her past Christmases with her late husband, she has a huge smile on her face.
The cause of the change we see in Ruth is simple. This year she has made friends in the other residents to enjoy life with. She isn’t lonely anymore.
Ruth’s story is not unique. In fact, according to Age UK, almost one million older people feel lonelier at Christmas, and 1.4 million older people see Christmas as a just a regular day.
Society takes the concept of company for granted. We don’t realise how important having our friends and family around is for our physical and mental health. And all too often, when we hear stories like Ruth’s we shake our head, say “how sad” and “I must do something to help”, and then life gets in the way and we forget.
This is unacceptable. Ruth’s story could be your mother’s or your grandmother’s. It could even be yours in a few years’ time. We all need to do more to help tackle loneliness amongst the elderly and make sure no one spends the majority of their time with only the TV and a bad Christmas film for company this Christmas.
With that in mind, this year Quantum Care opened our doors to the local elderly community in Hertfordshire to join our residents for a free Christmas lunch.
Events like this are an opportunity for people to come together and, with a little help, foster relationships that will hopefully last beyond Christmas.
During this event I listened to stories about how much these kind of events are needed. Some of our guests, who aren’t in care homes, were getting left behind due to the lack of day clubs available to them in the local area.
Add to this the issue of funding making it harder for them to afford care and you find that many of these people were going for days without seeing people and even trying to find conversation in a shop queue or even on a cold-call.
When we gave one lady her Christmas gift at the end of the day, she burst into floods of tears – remarking that this was the first Christmas present she’d seen in years.
These stories highlight how we as a society need to establish a better culture of kindness for our elderly so that no one is left behind.
That change can be made right on your doorstep.
The greatest gift you can give this Christmas is to remind older people that their stories are still worth sharing and they don’t have to be alone.
So this festive season, pick up the phone and call your nan on Christmas Day or spend an hour or two with your elderly neighbour.
You’ll be surprised at how something so small could mean so much.
Debbie Gilard is the Head of Corporate Services at Quantum Care, Hertfordshire’s largest care provide. Quantum Care is a not-for-profit care provider which offers specialist residential, dementia, respite and day care services.