During the summer I was really lucky and managed to arrange 4 weeks of work experience; 2 weeks in a small, privately owned care home and 2 weeks in a larger care home. They were both quite different so I was able to gain experience in varied environments.
My first two weeks volunteering were hard work but very rewarding. As I am only 16 and have no training, I was not allowed to do any actual caring, especially moving or helping carers to move the residents, but everything I could do was still useful, such as helping in the kitchen, and I was also able to spend time talking to the residents. It was fascinating to hear their views on the world and we had several interesting discussions whilst watching the news.
The care home itself is relatively small, with only 15 or 16 residents and is privately owned by a couple who own several care homes in Norwich. On most days, an activity had been arranged for the residents including music, craft and exercise. These were enjoyed enormously, especially singing and flower arranging, which I was told were their favourite activities.
Although I enjoyed most of my time spent there, my favourite part was talking to a 102 year old. She told me all about her family, especially her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she is very proud of. Some people in the home have family visiting everyday but others, like this lady, do not live near there family so are not able to see them as often as they would like. This can make their lives seem lonely; however the staff always try to be available for a chat and family members are able to call whenever they want.
During my second week there, I arrived in the morning to be told that one of the residents had passed away peacefully overnight. This was a sad day for everyone in the care home but it was amazing to see how well the carers managed everything. I had not met the lady but I knew she was very ill and someone was with her nearly all of the time. The staff dealt with everything wonderfully including comforting the bereaved family, sorting out her belongings and starting to look at funeral arrangements. This was my toughest day at the care home as I had to undertake tasks that the carers would usually do but I know they had an even tougher day, as she had been living there for a while and they had known her well.
Another upsetting part of being there was witnessing the residents with dementia. Physically, they were often the most able; however if you talked to them, you soon noticed that they did not have good short-term memory. The conversations would go round in circles as they very soon forgot what they had just said. Some of them also thought they were on holiday and would be leaving to go back to their parents’ house soon. This made me sad as you could see they were slowly getting worse but also glad that they were in such a lovely home.
The residents love living there and the ones I have spoken to have nothing but praise for the home. One lady was very proud of the gardens and insisted on showing me round them. They also love the food and especially enjoy the fact that there is often several choices. The main thing that stands out to me however is that the residents know how lucky they are to be in such a nice home.
I learnt so much from my time volunteering and it is difficult to put into words how fulfilling and moving the experience was. I now know how important care homes are and how tough yet amazing it is looking after the elderly. The carers taught me how to give the very ill the dignity they deserve and make sure everybody’s needs are looked after. I would highly recommend volunteering in a care home, whether you are interested in having a medical related career or not as it is a great insight into the world of work as well as learning more about the elderly.