Caring question

SIR - In a previous letter (published in the Sidmouth Herald dated January 6, 2012), I asked whether there are still carers in Sidmouth who are currently unable to find satisfactory respite care for loved ones.

Sadly, from conversations with a few individuals involved in this area, the answer to this question appears to be “Yes”. But, since writing the above letter, I have been able to see some of the good work done by the excellent Memory Cafe in Sidmouth.

John Summerside, who, with a very friendly and efficient group of volunteers, runs the Memory Cafe, kindly invited me to go along and see the type of service that they offer.

The Memory Cafe is a “drop-in” facility, so there is no need to book for a session in advance - it caters for carers and the cared-for, and also for anyone who feels that they would benefit from the programme on offer and the friendly atmosphere.

It is very much like a club where everyone receives a warm welcome and the opportunity to sit down and have a chat over a cup of tea - and everyone seems to enjoy it.

On the day of my visit, the two-hour session consisted of some mental exercises, a brief quiz, a reading of some amusing poems written by Pam Ayres, and group singing of favourite songs, with accompaniment by a keyboard - in addition to the “tea break”.

The popularity of the twice-monthly Memory Cafe means that the numbers attending can now be around 50, which is approaching the capacity of the room at Twyford House that is currently used - so thoughts are turning to the question of whether alternative, larger accommodation may be needed in the future.

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The Memory Cafe provides a welcome short break from the “routine” for carers and the cared-for - but carers also, of course, need longer breaks, whether for shopping, to catch up with friends, or just to do something different and relax - the type of break afforded by the respite care for their loved ones that was previously offered at Stowford Lodge.

As noted above, it seems that some carers are still unable to find the respite care that they need for loved ones. And it is known that, without the availability of breaks from their caring responsibilities, the health of carers may suffer.

Even where carers have been able to find respite care in care homes in nearby towns or in Exeter, it has been put to me that the situation may be far from ideal. Apart from the cost of the care home and of travel, and the fact that the journey may be difficult for the dementia sufferer, the need to make two return journeys to the care home in the day can mean that the free time available to the carer is effectively cut from a day to half a day. And if the policy of the care home for day care is to check on the individual every couple of hours, that may not be appropriate for some cases.

Following the run-down and closure of Stowford Lodge for respite care, we heard about the Torbay solution as a model that Sidmouth might try to follow as regards services for carers. However, I understand that there is a significant difference between the situation in the Torbay area and that in Sidmouth, in that there are apparently many more care homes in the Torbay area.

So, what can we do to help carers who, by looking after their loved ones, save this country such a large amount in care costs? One approach mentioned to me - more, I believe, as a wish than as a plan - is for the community to endeavour to purchase Stowford Lodge from the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, and run it as a day care centre offering respite care - assuming that the Trust would be willing to sell the building in this way, and could find suitable alternative accommodation for the services etc located there.

But it seems that there would clearly be a very significant financial cost for purchase and ongoing operation - and the set-up and organisation of the facility would certainly be a challenge. So should we dismiss this thought out of hand? Well, perhaps we should ask some questions - for example, might it be possible to obtain lottery funding, from either the National Lottery or Health Lottery, towards the cost of the building? Could some sort of shared ownership be achieved with a commercial partner, such as a care home?

Could a charitable covenant scheme for interested Sidmouth residents provide a basic regular level of income? Would any grants be available from the NHS or other public bodies, or commercial sponsorship, or support from established charities? Could legacies eventually become a source of funds? Could the building also be used as the larger premises needed for the Memory Cafe?

There will be lots of other possibilities, but, overall, the first impression must be that such an approach would be a very difficult course to take, and could not be achieved, if at all, in the short term. No doubt the Working Group (set up to look at the future provision of services in the Sidmouth area for dementia sufferers and their carers) will have explored this question. But I wonder whether any readers of the Sidmouth Herald have experiences to relate of financing or operating such a charitable project, or have ideas as to how it could be done effectively?

One bright spot recently, apart from seeing the work of the Memory Cafe, was the report in the Sidmouth Herald dated January 13 that a Sidmouth care home - Malden House - is to offer day care facilities suitable for respite care on Fridays, and possibly on other days by arrangement. That sounds like good news, and I hope that the open day organised by Malden House for January 27 will be a success. The extent to which other Sidmouth care homes are able to offer respite care facilities will no doubt be included in the report of the Working Group, together with information on other services available to carers generally (such as trained individuals available to go into the homes of dementia sufferers for short periods, to provide a break for a carer) - I understand that the Working Group are hoping to be able to publish a report, whether provisional or otherwise, by about the middle of February.

As noted in my previous letter, I am only a layman in this area - some of the above is based on brief conversations with individuals, and may include unintended inaccuracies due to my lack of understanding. But I, and I am sure many others in Sidmouth, look forward to reading the report of the Working Group, and hope for a better future for carers and their loved ones in Sidmouth.

John Labrum

12 Ballard Grove, Sidford