Dave's Dementia Journey to Vale House
Our lives changed forever in the Autumn of 2010 when doctors diagnosed my husband, Dave, aged 61, with Alzheimer’s. Over the previous year he had started to find difficulty with writing, spelling and doing simple, familiar tasks. Being a research engineer, he was always so good at problem solving, creativity and tasks around the home... plumbing, electrics, you name it, he could do it but now he struggled with even quite simple tasks, such as strapping our little granddaughter, Amy, into her car seat or painting a window frame. Various tests were undertaken at the JR Hospital in Oxford and we were invited along to hear the outcome.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer's was such a shock and very difficult for myself and the family to accept. However Dave's reaction was quite calm and he showed little or no anger or frustration at hearing this news and has remained placid throughout his steady decline.
It did not seem possible that the diagnosis could actually be true. Surely the doctors must have made a mistake. My Dave was still my Dave, the man I had married 38 years before, he looked the same, sounded the same, laughed the same. We were told to come back in six months. I left the hospital in a daze... we were told that Dave would now not be allowed to drive and he was put on long term sick leave, and actually never went back to work again, even to clear his desk.
With no counselling support offered by the NHS we felt very alone, even though we had wonderful family and friends. We had no idea what the future would hold and the easiest thing to do was to put our heads in the sand and pretend that it simply was not true. Doctors were unable to tell us what path Dave’s Alzheimer’s would take. They just said that everyone is different. We were now on an unknown journey, one with no compass or map to show us the way. One we did not choose and had no idea where it would take us. I spent much time on the Internet looking for research projects and possible cures that might be on the horizon, I was clutching at straws hoping that there was an answer - but there seemed to be nothing.
After several months I realised that things were only going to get worse, so I felt ready to seek advice and support. Our GP had mentioned the organisation ‘Young Dementia UK’ (YDUK) and so I plucked
up courage and telephoned them and they immediately came to our rescue. A family support worker visited our home soon after my phone call. She made various practical suggestions e.g. encouraging us to get on quickly with making me Dave’s Power of Attorney. Also we needed to reconsider our wills and make certain changes. She raised my awareness of what financial benefits might be available and offered to help me complete the forms to claim incapacity benefit. Having a ‘One to One’ support worker taking Dave out for three hours each week was something that benefited both of us. Initially they would go on bike rides but when that proved too much of a challenge for Dave, they went walking instead. In later stages it became visits to gardens and places of interest.
Three years from his diagnosis Dave was no longer able to communicate and one simply had to guess his needs and feelings. A year later he was no longer able to do anything for himself. Trying to find a home for respite care proved difficult, especially one that would suit Dave. Professionals spoke very highly about Vale House and so my daughter and I arranged a visit and were very impressed by the calm, happy atmosphere. We were told that there was one social service bed that could be booked for respite care. It took many phone calls, an assessment procedure, and more phone calls but eventually we were ‘in the system’. This then opened up the possibility for Dave to spend the occasional week in Vale House and for me to have a complete break. It also enabled us to see from first hand whether Vale House would suit Dave’s needs. His visits always went really well and staff showed a genuine fondness towards Dave, despite that fact that he was not really able to talk to them.
Eventually it became obvious that I could no longer continue to care for Dave at home. He now could not climb the stairs and had been provided with a hospital bed in a downstairs room. Then he lost the ability to weight bear and so a hoist was provided so that I could get Dave out of bed, flannel washed, changed and dressed. I contacted Vale House in February 2016 requesting a permanent room for Dave when one became available. It was explained that there was not a waiting list as such and, as rooms became available, the person with the most urgent needs was offered the room first. In time waiting was
no longer an option and so in May of that year Dave went into Heathfield Care Home but it was not geared specifically for dementia. However, we were delighted when Dave was offered a room in Vale House two months later. It had been awarded an ‘Outstanding’ category as a result of the inspection in May 2016 which further reassured us that this was the place where we wanted Dave to be.
Dave has now lived at Vale House for just over a year. We have been really pleased with the care that he receives. There is always a happy atmosphere and the staff appear to genuinely enjoy their work and show warmth and respect towards the residents they look after. Dave is relaxed and content, as much as we can tell with someone who has lost the ability to communicate. Vale House has been designed specifically for the needs of residents with dementia. All the rooms are en suite, Dave has to be hoisted from his bed to shower and then to his day chair, he requires close nursing and feeding, which is very labour intensive.
The home is light and airy and those able can walk freely in a safe secure environment. The approach is very 'person centred' individual preferences are catered for. Regular medical checkups are carried out by a local doctor with updates passed on to us. We have also been impressed by a peripatetic music therapist providing group and one to one sessions with the patients, a visiting hairdresser, and Dave is always presentable, clean shaven and dressed in clean comfortable clothing.
The location is also good, making taking Dave to a nearby riverside pub and a local hotel possible, both of which are welcoming and have wheelchair access. Staff are really helpful in preparing Dave for these excursions by changing him and dressing him accordingly and transferring him to a specific wheelchair. An added advantage is that Vale House is only seven miles from our home, making it easy for family and friends to visit Dave.
Deciding to place your husband in a care home is not an easy decision, but our family has been reassured by the knowledge that in Vale House he is being cared for by an excellent and dedicated team in an environment suited to his extreme needs.