Page last updated at 07:42 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 08:42 UK

Care home life is 'slow death'

Deddie Davies is a sprightly 70-year-old.

But when she agreed to spend five days in a care home as part of an investigation into care of the elderly for Radio 4's Today programme, she found a pace of life far removed from her usual bustle.

Posing as reporter Jon Manel's aunt, Deddie spent a week living alongside permanent residents. The home was unaware of her real identity.

She was determined to give people in care homes "a voice" and kept an audio diary of her experiences.


Deddie's husband jokingly tells her to "behave herself" as she leaves their home for one of a very different kind.

"I just hope this will do some good," she says to her husband.

Deddie, who is a trustee of the charity Compassion In Care, is playing the part of Jon's aunt who has mild dementia and whose carer has gone away for a few days.

Her room at the home has a wardrobe, bed, chest of drawers and an en-suite bathroom. It is "very plain" but "perfectly clean".

Pensioner and carer holding hands
Deddie found that life in the home revolved around feeding times
Upon her first look in the lounge, she finds five residents and a television.

"The TV was on the whole time, no-one was watching and apart from chatting to the lady sitting beside me, no-one spoke. We were alone for nearly an hour with no carer coming in," she says.

Dinner is served at 5pm and Deddie has beans on toast, followed by stewed apricots and a cup of tea.

Deddie returns to her room, which she finds too cold, like the lounge. She's in bed at 9.30pm - the earliest she has been in bed for years.


Deddie is woken at 5.45am by a carer coming into the room.

"The carer came in, switched the light on, changed the water in my room, muttered it was cold, fiddled with the radiator and went out. Didn't speak to me or anything," she records.

If I was told I had to stay here for the rest of my life, I know I would be cared for but... it would be a slow death
Deddie Davies

"Last night a carer came in at 10pm and put the bell cord on my bed. Not one of the night staff introduced themselves or spoke to me. It's very strange, quite lonely."

Breakfast is served at 9am. Deddie notices the staff are "very jolly and very kind".

"So far, I've had a very pleasant experience of it here," she says.

Jon arrives during lunch and Deddie tells him she's keen to get some fresh air. She had tried to go outside earlier but had not been allowed.

Later on, a bedridden woman in the room next to Deddie's has been crying out for some time. The woman in the room opposite Deddie tells her it is quite normal and "no one really goes there much".

The nurse tells Deddie: "Take no notice, she's just old."


The radiator in her room has been fixed and the manager comes over for a chat.

"If I was helpless as most people in here, I would feel quite safe and cared for," she says.

Care home (generic)
I do think their quality of life could be better with just a little bit more effort

Deddie orders baked beans as, she says, she cannot face another mashed potato and meat offering.

The young girl who organises the activities had promised to take Deddie to get some air. She fails to show up but the manager takes her down to the hallway where she sits for a while.

Before dinner, Deddie revisits the lounge.

"Most are asleep but one, who is difficult to understand, speaks and I go over and talk to her," she says.

"She says she's lonely."

As she goes to bed she says: "I felt there was a tremendous air of boredom in the lounge. They are surrounded by people but you get the feeling that they're bored.

"They cannot really concentrate on the endless television that's on. Nobody in the lounge had a visitor today so they sat there from breakfast time right through to after supper."


Deddie is checked on twice during the night.

Later, she watches a carer feed a resident and says it "all seems rather perfunctory".

"I know they are all very busy and a lot of the patients have to be fed in their rooms," she says.

It's not until you put yourself into the position of utter helplessness that you realise how much more is needed to make the days worthwhile other than being washed and fed
Deddie Davies

Deddie has noticed that all the residents in the lounge are "properly dressed and clean, and their nails are cut nicely and their hair brushed".

But in the four days she has been here, she has not seen any organised activities or a nurse or carer just chatting to the bedridden patients.

It is sunny outside but Deddie spends the entire day reading in the lounge, the monotony punctuated only by meals.

"There's one who never speaks and he sits smiling the whole time," she says. "So this afternoon I thought I will talk and see if he can. And indeed he can talk, he's living in the past but he can communicate."

Shouting heard

"If I was told I had to stay here for the rest of my life, I know I would be cared for but when you are sitting for nearly nine hours with nothing happening except for meals, it would be a slow death," she says.

"It's not until you put yourself into the position of utter helplessness that you realise how much more is needed to make the days worthwhile other than being washed and fed. There really does need to be more individual attention as their needs vary so much."

But late that night, as she is dozing off, she is wakened by shouting outside in the corridor. It is one of the carers on the phone. There is, she says, quite a different atmosphere that night and she feels uncomfortable.

During the night, Deddie decides to ring for assistance and pretends she has had a bad dream but there was "no reassurance, no comforting and no conversation".


When the drug trolley is being wheeled around after breakfast, Deddie notices the nurse is "transfixed to the television" and frequently leaves the trolley unattended.

"Apart from giving out the pills and medicines, she never spoke to anyone," she says.

A resident almost gets eye drops in the wrong eye, but luckily they were able to inform the nurse.

Deddie visits the lounge for the last time before Jon comes to pick her up.

With a catch in her voice, she admits she is sad to leave the other residents.

"I do think their quality of life could be better with just a little bit more effort," she says.

"It wouldn't take much more money but it just needs a greater vision of what it's like to be completely helpless."

Diary of a social worker
03 Jun 08 |  UK


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