Norfolk pensioners show care homes can be dignified

Pensioners from Norwich, North Walsham and Attleborough are the stars of a new film which aims to show life in a care home does not have to be undignified.

Nipping out for a wander round the park, eating a beetroot sandwich whenever you fancy one and not having your underwear mixed up with someone else's.

For a group of Norfolk pensioners, that is what dignity in old age means to them.

Now they have made their screen debuts to star in a short film and explain how respect, independence, privacy and happiness are key to maintaining it.

For many, those terms are not often associated with care homes which more readily evoke images of communal living spaces and a heavy reliance on a series of helpers.

But that is something the stars of I Am – who appear alongside fellow residents and workers at the four care homes where they live – hope to change.

Through the eyes of Doug Lee, of Philadelphia House in Norwich, Geoff Ward and Rita Dolby, who live at Rosemeadow in North Walsham, and Gwen Buckle, of St Edmund's at Attleborough, the Norfolk County Council film aims to give an insight into their experiences.

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Vicky Cowap, quality improvement manager at the council, said the film was a true reflection of the residents' experience. She said: 'We very much wanted them to lead it. It's totally un-scripted.'

About 100 hours of footage was shot and condensed into the 16-minute film which was premiered in front of its stars at the George Hotel in Swaffham yesterday.

It will now be used to train future carers to stress to them the importance of helping maintain the residents' self-respect in a setting that is rarely considered dignified.

Care assistant Rebecca Aldiss, who works at Philadelphia House in Norwich, said it was important to show people how much care homes had changed in the past two decades.

She said: 'I would never ever put my parents into a car home with how they were 20 years ago. I was shocked. It's amazing how much it has changed for the better. Individuals are treated as individuals.'

The film will also be used to reassure people facing the prospect of moving into residential care.

Mrs Cowap said many people feared their independence would be the first thing to go when moving to a care home.

'You think you are going to lose your individuality,' she said. 'What we wanted to do with the film is show you can still live a good life, albeit in a care home.'

The film has been produced by the county council, which runs 26 residential care homes and 13 housing-with-care units in Norfolk, including those featured in the film.

It was funded from by at �10,000 grant from the Department of Health's Dignity in Care campaign.

Doug Lee's starring role in I Am sees him exploring Waterloo Park with care assistant Rebecca Aldis.

The 90-year-old has been at Philadelphia House in Norwich for just over a year and said the film reflects life in a care home perfectly.

'I'm not restricted in any way,' he said. 'I do as I like to a certain extent and I can't praise the carers enough. I didn't think there were people like that.

'Since I have been here, I have never wanted for anything and, within reason, what I have asked for I have got.'

The father-of-one, who lived in Bowthorpe with one of his grand-daughters before moving to Philadelphia House, admitted he had not expected to maintain as much as independence as he had.

Gwen Buckle, 90, moved to St Edmund's care home in Attleborough three years ago after a stroke left her in need of extra help.

She said dignity, for her, meant still being treated as an individual by her carers and maintaining her own space.

In I Am she talks about a time when the catering staff at St Edmund's rustled her up a beetroot sandwich when there was nothing on the tea trolley she wanted.

'I thought so much of that,' said Mrs Buckle, who lived in Old Buckenham before moving to St Edmund's.

Rita Dolby said knowing she would be listened to by staff at Rosemeadow care home in North Walsham was incredibly important.

The 87-year-old, who is a former school secretary, said: 'They are anxious that you should have what you want. We have residents' meeting and the things mentioned, very often, are implemented within a couple of days.'

Mrs Dolby, a mother-of-one, moved from her North Walsham home to Rosemeadow after operations on her hips..

Geoff Ward, who moved to Rosemeadow this year after suffering a stroke in January 2005, said life in the care home was what he made it. 'I get to do the things I like, when I like,' he said.

The 72-year-old said one day he walked into his room and found his washing had been mixed up with somebody else's but after raising it with his carers it was quickly dealt with. 'I suggested laundry bags and that's going to happen,' he said.