Involvement in CHARM from the perspective of Provider Lead

Four care homes participated in the CHARM research project, conducting 2 mini-research projects each. This blog shares the experiences of Anya Court Care Home in Rugby, from the perspective of their Provider Lead, April Dobson. April is Head of Dementia Care and Wellbeing at Hallmark Care Homes and has played an active part in CHARM from the very beginning: from helping design the model and bid for funding, to supporting the research team at Anya Court to conduct their own research projects.

Thanks especially also goes to Sue Mitchell, Cheryl Jones, Sally Mahon and Michelle Sides of Hallmark Care Homes for their work as part of the Anya Court Research Working Group. Over to April:

“I had been aware for some time of the various different research and service evaluation projects conducted by ADS and was introduced to CHARM by Isabelle Latham. Isabelle had been the course lead of the module I participated in.

A large part of my role involves supporting our teams in the homes to continuously develop their own dementia care practice; that might be through identifying training needs and opportunities, advising on the physical environment, or sharing innovative ideas and projects. I’m always really keen for ideas to come from the people who are delivering hands-on care, and know the residents best, so CHARM sounded like an ideal opportunity to develop some of their ideas more fully.

I also know that taking part in research can often feel daunting for care homes, and worries about the pressures of time, resources and usefulness can put care homes off taking part. However, we also know that care homes want to deliver the best practice for their residents, are interested in trying out new things, and that within the team, residents and their families, there are lots of untapped skills and experiences.

I initially put a proposal forward to our board to ask for their approval for Hallmark to be involved. Anya Court seemed the ideal home for the project, given its location and accessibility for the research team. I particularly liked the hands-on coaching and mentoring elements that the proposed researcher-in-residence model included and wanted to ensure that these could be fully integrated.

The home manager at Anya was relatively new to the organisation and I felt that the project would help get everyone working together. I met with her to discuss the project.  She was really enthusiastic and keen to be involved, and so I subsequently invited Izzie and Faith (the researchers-in-residence) along to talk to all heads of departments, and team members in the home.

Fortunately, there are some natural leaders at Anya Court – one of those being Sue Mitchell, the lifestyles lead, who immediately stepped up to the plate. The great thing about CHARM is that the ideas for research and service evaluations come from the team, and Sue and the team were immediately able to identify areas of practice that they all wanted to improve and change.

At the start of the CHARM project we also persuaded a family member to become involved in the project, and his impact added a different, and very welcome perspective to our thinking and planning.

For project 1, the team wanted to change the meal-time experience for people living with dementia as they had noticed that having a large, 3-course meal at lunchtime was proving unsatisfactory for some on a number of levels, and wanted to see if a larger meal at the end of the day would work better for them.

They identified that the gap between breakfast and lunch, for some, wasn’t that long, and as a consequence some people did not eat much at lunchtime. With only a light teatime/evening meal, some were hungry during the night and may not have slept well as a result. Those who did eat a large meal at lunchtime were often sleepy and inactive during the afternoons.

The team also felt that having longer to engage people in the preparation of food would provide additional opportunities for involvement in a wider variety of activities of daily living, such as chopping vegetables, making soup, preparing sandwiches, etc. bringing with it a renewed sense of purpose, achievement, and belonging. This coupled with the added aroma of baking and cooking throughout the day, could act as sensory stimulus. Having a lighter meal at lunchtime which took up less time might also enable residents to take part in activities that would otherwise be interrupted by the long lunch-time service.

For project 2, the team considered the many changes that had happened in the home and on the dementia community. There had been a change of manager, and the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively impacted residents, relatives and team members. The team decided to focus on how they could support the home and team members to rebuild the morale and skills needed to help people living with dementia in the best possible way. They felt that focussing on communication and training would really help move things in the right direction.

Involvement with in-person meetings during the project was great – we had some at the home, and the wider group met to share their projects and learn more about the research methods and CHARM approach. All of the meetings were incredibly positive and supportive – we all learnt a huge amount. The most valuable aspect was being together with other care home providers, sharing good practice and ideas, and also supporting each other with the various challenges we identified. The on-line meetings were also helpful in keeping the momentum going, although this became increasingly difficult as the pandemic progressed.

The CHARM researchers were pivotal in helping us all stay focussed, and providing a friendly safety net. Their knowledge, flexibility, understanding of the care home environment, and support ensured that the project moved forward at a pace that was comfortable and realistic for everyone.”

Watch this space to read the reports from Anya Court’s specific research projects, which will feature in our blogs in the next few weeks!

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