From greyhounds to boa constrictors, a menagerie of creatures is now finding its way into RMBI care homes. Sarah Holmes discovers the therapeutic effects that animals can have on those in need
Bella the greyhound is proving popular at Cadogan Court in Exeter as she meanders through the crowds at the annual summer fete. With her hazelnut fur and her pink tongue lolling lazily out of the side of her mouth, she’s a big hit with the residents.
‘She loves it,’ laughs owner Sue Bescinizza. ‘She could stand here for hours being stroked.’
Meanwhile, across the grounds, Elsie and Walter Nicholls watch in delight as Audrey the schnauzer leaps enthusiastically around their bench. The couple have been living in Cadogan Court for nine months, and are ardent dog lovers. ‘I’m so glad they bring the animals into the home,’ says Elsie. ‘It brings back all the memories of our own pets.’
With more than a million older people suffering from loneliness in the UK, visits from animals such as Bella and Audrey are vital in tackling the effects of social isolation. This is particularly true for people in residential care homes, where there often aren’t the facilities – or the manpower – to look after pets.
‘Pets bring a sense of comfort and well-being, so we encourage many different animals into our homes,’ says Debra Keeling, Deputy Director of Care Operations at the RMBI. ‘We want residents to enjoy the benefits animals provide, even if they don’t have their own pets.’
At Cadogan Court, an RMBI care home that looks after older masons and their families, residents like Elsie and Walter get to see Bella every week. Just one of 4,500 dogs registered with the charity Pets As Therapy (PAT), Bella regularly visits hospitals, special-needs schools and care homes around her local area to provide therapeutic comfort and companionship to the residents. Her docile nature makes her the perfect candidate for the charity.
‘She’s always a welcome guest,’ says Helen Mitchell, Manager at Cadogan Court. ‘The residents’ faces light up when she walks through the door.’ With nearly half of residents aged over 65 relying primarily on their TVs for company, Bella’s visits give them a chance to engage in something a little different.
‘The best thing about the PAT visits is that everyone can get involved,’ says Helen. ‘If a resident is immobile, we’ll take Bella to their bedside so they can reach out to stroke her.’
For residents who are battling with dementia, Bella has proven to be a particularly calming influence. ‘A lot of our nursing residents had pets before moving in, and they have fond memories attached to dogs. It’s a good way of helping them to remember. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’
‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl tried to take off right here in the living room.’ Norman Wilkins
Creating a sanctuary
But it’s not just domestic animals that visit. The home has established links with animal sanctuaries throughout Devon, so that every year donkeys, ponies and even owls come to see the residents.
‘I’ll always remember when Echo the Eurasian eagle owl fanned out its wings and tried to take off right here in the living room,’ remembers Norman Wilkins, a resident at Cadogan Court, with delight. ‘It created this incredible draft of air that pushed down on us like a gale. I’ve never felt anything like it before.’
In an effort to broaden the animal activities, Helen also got a local pet shop to showcase its collection of exotic snakes, lizards and tarantulas. ‘It’s not every day you see a three-foot-long lizard running loose in the living room,’ laughs Helen. She brought her own boa constrictor along for the visit. ‘Luckily, she was a lot smaller then, only about four-and-a-half foot,’ she says. ‘She’s double that size now.’
Despite some initial apprehension, it wasn’t long before many of the residents let the boa constrictor hang around their necks, and fork through their fingers with its head. ‘They were all asking for photographs to send home to their sons and daughters to prove they’d actually held a snake,’ remembers Helen. ‘The energy and excitement of the day really brought people out of their shells.’
Taking the idea one step further, staff at Prince Edward Duke of Kent Court in Essex decided to introduce a live-in dog to the home to bring the community together and give residents a renewed sense of purpose from having to walk and feed her.
Named Meg, the black labrador was originally owned by a gentleman who refused to move into the home unless she could come with him. ‘Life changed the moment she arrived,’ explains Audrey Brown, Activities Coordinator at the RMBI care home. ‘The whole place felt more homely.’
‘A lot of residents had pets before moving in, and have fond memories attached to dogs. Sometimes, I think they remember the animals better than the people.’ Helen Mitchell
A positive presence
While PAT visits have always been a key form of therapy in the care home, Meg’s constant presence allows her to build up relationships with the residents and become attuned to their particular behaviours. If Meg senses that a resident is feeling down, for example, she’ll seek them out to sit by them or lie on their bed.
For Kathleen, who lives in Mauchline House, the home’s dementia support house, companionship has proved particularly beneficial. ‘I think simply stroking Meg’s head is very calming for Kathleen, as it gives her something to think about other than herself and her condition,’ says Audrey. ‘Meg is one of the few companions who won’t force herself on you. She won’t insist you get up to take your medication, or expect you to make conversation.
In dementia, your relationship with others can become difficult, but with Meg it’s a simple bond.’
The home has now been given Butterfly Service Status – a nationally recognised award that identifies care homes that deliver an exceptional standard of support for their residents living with dementia. Meg is another example of the way in which the RMBI provides individualised care for its residents. ‘Care homes are constantly changing, and what works changes with it,’ says Audrey. ‘But for us, Meg has been a seamless fit. It’s like having another member of staff.’
One in eight older people rely on their animals as a source of companionship, but it seems dog owners are the ones reaping most benefits. Not only do four-legged friends keep people 12 per cent more active than those who don’t own pets, they also raise our self-esteem and make us more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less fearful, according to the American Psychological Association.
Bella the greyhound passed away shortly before publication. Cadogan Court would like to thank her owner for all the happiness Bella brought to residents
After a life of structure and relationships forged through work, many men feel an absence in their lives once they retire. The RMBI therefore supports residents with a range of activities to fill this void
Maintaining hobbies and keeping up with regular social activities can be difficult for those who are less able to get out and about and whose cognitive functions may be in decline. Taking part in stimulating and enjoyable activities and meeting new people is vitally important for older people in order to combat loneliness, keep active and retain a sense of identity and connection to the past.
Jack MacMurran, a resident of RMBI care home Cadogan Court in Exeter, has been participating in Men in Sheds, an innovative project run by Age UK Exeter. The scheme brings together men over the age of fifty in the familiar surroundings of a ‘shed’ or workshop, for practical activities such as woodworking, while socialising and learning new skills. The renovated garden furniture and equipment is donated to charity, raising funds for worthy causes worldwide.
Jack has been part of the Men in Sheds programme since 2012. During this time, he has made new friends, shared memories and repaired everything from wheelbarrows to birdhouses. Jack says: ‘I’ve made some great friends through Men in Sheds. We enjoy talking about what we’ve been doing that week and it’s nice to have a change of scenery. I used to work on ships and still enjoy making and fixing things; it’s great that I can still do this once a week and nice to know that what I make is put to good use.’
Another Cadogan Court resident, Stan Ashdown, eighty-one, also enjoys making things out of wood – although the furniture he produces is in miniature form. Stan has always loved carpentry, having built stage sets for local theatre productions in his younger years, but it was after his retirement that he became interested in doll’s house construction and miniature furniture, turning a spare room at home into his workshop.
Since moving into the RMBI home with his wife Elsie last April, Stan has continued with his hobby, producing beautifully crafted items such as tiny beds, tables and wardrobes, replicating styles from different periods.
Just like old times
A key aspect of life in RMBI care homes for many male residents is the masonic fraternity itself. Each RMBI home has an Association of Friends formed of local masonic volunteers, who make a vital contribution to residents’ quality of life. They organise events and raise funds to enable the purchase of items such as minibuses and audio equipment, as well as the creation of leisure areas.
Male residents can also enjoy masonic activities through the Good Neighbour Lodge, No. 8378, whose meetings take place in the homes on rotation.
Ecclesholme in Manchester is one of several RMBI homes that now has a bar, recently converted from an old lounge. The bar offers real ales and traditional pub games, and at eighty-six years old, George Hogget is a regular. His daughter says he ‘thoroughly enjoys chatting and reminiscing with the other gentlemen residents over a pint, just like old times’.
‘A key aspect of life in RMBI care homes for many male residents is the masonic fraternity itself.’
Fun and games at Cadogan Court
Elderly masons and their dependants residing at RMBI care home Cadogan Court in Exeter were joined by Exeter University staff for a 1950s themed fun day. Every year, the university looks for local community projects that may benefit from support, and university staff then volunteer their time for a Community Challenge day.
Exeter University has teamed up with Cadogan Court in the past to help with gardening and DIY tasks, so the home was delighted to be the focus for its Community Challenge.
The 1950s theme was ‘games from years gone by’, and included activities such as Hoopla, Hook-a-Duck and Roll-a-Penny. The day was filled with classic 1950s songs and memorabilia. Local mason John Hooper from Lodge of Semper Fidelis, No. 529, Worcester, brought in his 1951 Ford Pilot, while residents, relatives and staff dressed up in their best 1950s garb to compete for the ‘best dressed’ prize.
The RMBI continuously invest in their care homes to ensure that they meet government guidelines, legislation and the changing needs of older people. The RMBI also ensure that there is a consistent style in their Homes in order to create an environment for our residents.
Just over 18 months ago an Interior Design Manual was developed using the RMBI Corporate Identity guidelines as its foundation. This ensures that all RMBI Homes are refurbished to a consistent standard where the interior design is distinguishable and recognisable.
The Purpose of the Manual
The purpose of the Manual is to help provide an environment that suits all people living in RMBI Homes and to create an image that is welcoming and representative of the RMBI across all its Homes.
The Manual offers a series of options that the management staff at the RMBI can use to refurbish areas in the Homes, from furniture and curtain choices to wallpaper and flooring. This removes the temptation for a mix and match approach of personal tastes and helps to maintain a consistent style throughout.
As the RMBI's property portfolio ranges from listed and art deco buildings to purpose built care homes, the Manual was developed once a review was undertaken of all its properties. This was to ensure that colours and themes were selected that would enhance the buildings natural aesthetics and help to create more comfortable environments. This helps the RMBI management teams in choosing the right themes and colours to suit the building and most importantly the various types of care that is provided in different areas of the Homes.
A range of furniture and furnishings has also been selected on the basis of their high standard of quality, thus adding value to the Homes as well as ensuring that appropriate furniture is purchased to suit the varying needs of people living in our Homes.
Refurbishment at Homes
RMBI Homes have been going through major building and fire prevention works due to regulation changes. While this work has been in progress, the RMBI have taken the opportunity to carry out the refurbishments required at their care homes in line with the Manual, resulting in minimal disruption for the people living in the Homes.
Reception areas at care homes Cadogan Court in Exeter, Ecclesholme in Manchester, Lord Harris Court in Berkshire and Prince George Duke of Kent Court in Kent, have been upgraded to allow more space, natural light and seating areas and to form a more consistent image of a welcome area in RMBI Homes.
A previously unused section of Albert Edward Prince of Wales Court in Mid Glamorgan has been refurbished to provide 10 bedrooms with ensuite facilities in the form of wet rooms. In addition, the lounge, dining room and kitchen areas have also been refurbished, all in line with the Manual.
Prince George Duke of Kent Court in Kent, has also recently had its hairdressing suite upgraded and modernised to ensure that treatments are provided in pleasant and relaxing surroundings.
Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, has had lounge areas and communal areas in the nursing wing refurbished in line with the Manual. This has given a new lease of life to the areas, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere that is suitable for the nursing care provided.
Connaught Court in York, is currently undergoing some major works to enhance the aesthetics of the Home as well as providing newly refurbished areas such as the new dementia zone area.
James Terry Court opens its doors
Phase 1 of the rebuild of James Terry Court, Croydon opened this autumn. Phase 1 is furnished using the Manual to ensure consistency and a high standard of furnishings.
RMBI care home Cadogan Court, Exeter has celebrated its 25th birthday.
The celebrations included champagne on arrival, a buffet lunch and a birthday cake as well as individual cupcakes for individuals.
Residents and relatives were joined at the event by Lord Cadogan who presented awards to long serving members of staff, representatives from Somerset, Devon and Cornwall Provinces, the Association of Friends of Cadogan Court and senior members from the RMBI.
The event was enjoyed by all.