Work/Life: The View from the A/C's Desk...

I am thrilled to introduce a new series for the blog: 'Work/Life: The View from the A/Cs Desk' - a way for activity co-ordinators to share the highs and lows of the day-to-day, with everything from planning tips and their favourite activities, to taking time out and talking to residents. 

THIS MONTH: Marion Fanning, Swimbridge House, nr Barnstaple, Devon

Marion has been activity co-ordinator at Swimbridge House, a privately-owned nursing home with 29 residents, for a year and a half. Her very varied career has generally involved the welfare of other people, and has seen her work across environmental conservation, social work, mental health, horticulture and home care. She is a keen gardener, keeps hens and bees and grows flowers, fruit and veg. She says: “I think that it helps me that I have experience of many different things.  ‘Jack of all trades’ is definitely a label that helps in this job!”

Marion playing her melodeon, which her residents love!

Marion playing her melodeon, which her residents love!

The best thing about my job is…the way people surprise me. Everyday, one or more of our residents will do or say something that surprises me. It might be an observation about a fellow resident, a touching comment, an insult, a vivid memory, or a request for a hug. It could be that they catch the ball when previously they could not, or knit a row without dropping a stitch, or play a tune on the piano or sing the words of a song out of the blue.
The hardest thing about my job is…sometimes feeling rather isolated with it. I'm not part of the care team, or the nursing team, or the management team - so sometimes it's hard to know where I fit in.
I can't get through the day without…sitting quietly and having a cup of tea and a biscuit with someone who is confined to bed. I choose someone different each day and just go and 'visit'. Usually I take the Sparkle with me too and we'll do the quiz or read a page together. Or I might look at their photos and trinkets with them or just talk about the weather.

Everyday, one or more of our residents will do or say something that surprises me.

I tend to do most of my planning…at the beginning of the month, so I can give people an idea of what will be happening. I do most of my thinking/deciding whilst I'm doing my outside jobs at home early in the morning; that's when I form an idea in my head about how the day might go. It doesn't always go to plan though!
The best time of the week is…singing together. There is no doubt that music is the single most stimulating activity for those with dementia. It's the session that brings the most lovely 'surprises'. Folk who seldom speak sing entire verses and many memories are triggered. Playground songs are a good reminiscence tool.
The busiest time of the week is…Fridays. As I don't work at weekends, I like to check that those who read have a library book, that the bird feeders are full and that there are games and DVDs, puzzles and Sparkles around in case relatives or carers want to use them. On the last Friday each month I print out the photos I've taken of the activities and put them on the display board. That takes ages!

There is no doubt that music is the single most stimulating activity for those with dementia. It’s the session that brings the most lovely ‘surprises’.

I use The Daily a communication tool. It connects me to residents and relatives and gives everyone inspiration for conversations that they probably wouldn't have had otherwise. I mean, you just wouldn't think to talk about custard, or dripping on toast as a rule! It's fabulous for group activity ideas and saves me loads of time . I'm never stuck for an idea of what to do.
Our residents love The Sparkle because…it's friendly, and its style makes it very accessible. Large print and a 'chatty' tone makes it so user-friendly. For most of our residents, a commercial newspaper makes no sense anymore; the print is too small, the news is too bad and the language obscure.
My top tip for busy co-ordinators is…always keep a camera handy, as you never know when a magic moment is going to present itself. It also helps you to document what you've been doing. Also, take the time to introduce residents to each other and give some thought as to who might get on with who. In our home, hardly anyone is independently mobile so they are reliant on you (most likely you) to help them to find each other, to discover their common ground and to help them build friendships. Sit them down together with a pot of tea and perhaps a box of dominoes, or coffee and a copy of the Sparkle. Make sure to give them a pen! And my last tip - never underestimate how important your role is.

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