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Horror stories about cruel care home staff regularly make the headlines, sending a shiver down the spine of anyone who has a loved one with dementia. Of course, the vast majority of professional carer workers are dedicated and hardworking, but a few, sadly, aren’t. So, if you hear a carer saying any of the comments below, don’t simply brush them off. They could suggest your loved one isn’t receiving the care they deserve…

‘Sorry about the smell but there’s nothing we can do about it’

Oh yes there is! Dementia can’t be used as an excuse for a foul-smelling care home, even if the residents are all incontinent. Regular, thorough cleaning should take place frequently throughout the day, particularly in communal areas where groups of residents may spend a lot of time. Besides, if other care homes can manage to keep bad smells at bay (and they do) why can’t this one?

‘He/she has been really naughty/stroppy/rude today’

No they haven’t, they have dementia. Their condition might result in some distressed behaviour, which could be difficult to manage, but it’s insulting to use infantile language to describe symptoms of an illness. In fact, this sort of language isn’t only patronising, it suggest a lack of understanding of one of the most basic concepts of dementia care.

‘Sorry we keep losing her clothes/teeth/shoes/hairbrush/slippers but we’re really busy and it can’t be helped’

Yes it can! It might be difficult for care workers to keep track of your loved one’s personal possessions, and the odd missing item can be forgiven, but if this becomes a regular occurrence, something is wrong. If your loved one is often dressed in someone else’s clothes, or if you’re constantly replacing tooth brushes, slippers and hairbrushes, the care home has some serious organisational issues (or worse) that need to be addressed.

‘We’ve tried music/dancing/craft activities but nobody was interested so we stopped. They all like playing bingo though’

We doubt it. So why did you give up the other activities? How long did you try them for? Maybe you could try again? Or what about something different? This statement is worrying because it suggests a lack of motivation or enthusiasm for making residents lives more interesting and enjoyable. Once this kind of attitude becomes ingrained, it can be very difficult to change – the sooner you challenge it, the better.

‘I can’t help it if he just sat in his room all day – he isn’t the only person I look after, you know’

Yes, you do know, and you also know this care worker does a very difficult job and may have had a particularly difficult day. However, if they are generally defensive when you ask questions, you need to ask yourself why. Remember, you are perfectly entitled to express concern or disappointment about the quality of your loved one’s care –in fact, it would be wrong of you not to. If the staff member doesn’t like this, or can’t handle it, they may be in need of support from a manager, or may simply be in the wrong job.

Proceed with caution if you hear the following statements:

‘I don’t have any dementia training but I love old people – and I’m really good with them’

Some people are instinctively good at care work, regardless of whether they have training. However, there’s quite a difference between being ‘good’ with older people and being ‘good’ with a person who has dementia. If a carer can’t recognise the difference, they could be heading for trouble.

‘Visiting hours are between…’

There isn’t anything intrinsically ‘wrong’ about a care home having set visiting times, but most don’t. After all, this is your loved one’s home, not a hospital, so it makes sense that friends and family can come and go as they please. It’s worth asking why set visiting times are still used and how flexible they are in practice. If you don’t feel comfortable about their policy, move on.

‘We’re too short staffed to do X, Y and Z’

Sadly, many care homes experience staff shortages. In fact, studies have suggested that around 20 per cent of nursing homes do not have enough staff on duty to ensure residents receive good, safe care. Yet despite this depressing statistic, many still manage to do a pretty good job. So, if you keep hearing this phrase over and over again, it might be time to stop clucking sympathetically and to ask yourself; why is the staffing shortage so acute? Are staff unhappy? If so, why? Could the shortage lead to a potentially serious incident? Or has ‘we’re short staffed’ become a well-rehearsed excuse for care that simply isn’t good enough? If you haven’t looked at their inspection report by the Care Quality Commission, it’s probably time to do so now.

For more advice on picking a care home, click here.