Dear Ann

We would like to formally acknowledge and register our utmost gratitude to you personally for the truly exceptional care provided to our aunt, over the five-year period she made her home with you. (We have written personally to all team members and to Angie).

We experienced long respite care stays with her in three other homes in the local area organised by her elderly husband, when her health and wellbeing deteriorated week on week, as she sat with her head down, sleeping permanently and disengaged, hardly able to speak, virtually ignored bar dealing with the essentials of care. We took matters into our own hands as we’d seen enough.

We diligently visited and inspected all homes within a given radius against a set of criteria we developed which reflected her special needs, got second professional opinions and interviewed management to try and find a way to improve her quality of life through the choice of care home that was to become her permanent home. We then encouraged her husband to allow us to move her to you after it felt like winning the lottery in getting a place for her, even though it was an upstairs room and involved the stair lift. She loved that room, looking out onto the train line and countryside view where her husband used to drive the train daily before retiring.

To this day, we feel totally blessed in that the remarkable differences we witnessed at the outset when trying to secure a place for our Aunt at Coombe House, have remained constant. Coombe House has never been satisfied with the status quo, we have seen continual investment in the home, in key staff, in extending services, in novel activities and in pilots and initiatives designed to improve and extend the lives of those living with dementia. We’ve learned important skills ourselves along the way and had tremendous support in making key decisions at different stages and especially around End of Life Care. We learned how to be completely at ease with other residents ourselves, talk and support them. We have been able to visit at any time, day or night and we have. We’ve arrived in working clothes, been welcomed with tea and a smile, sometimes a hug and a full update on our Aunt’s care and reviewed care records impromptu at strange times of the day and evening. It has felt like an extension of our own home environment. We’ve also been grateful when you and other team members have proactively alerted us to things they thought she would benefit from or needed.

We saw her whole quality of life improve substantively and in her way she was happy, surrounded by team members who always showed compassion, empathy and fun in a real domestic ‘at home’ environment with home cooking. She had whatever she needed, even before we consulted you Ann, often at your own expense, only later would we actually pay for the increased level of indulgence, treats or care she was already receiving.

These days it’s rare to say you’ve found something that is outstanding in specialist (health)care, and the times when she became down or depressed and picked at her food because that’s the way her personality worked, you and your team refused to accept that and worked alongside Dr Jefferies her GP and she regained the zest for life several times, until she couldn’t bear to be without her husband any longer.

If there is anything we can genuinely ever do to promote your home, we will. We remain strong advocates of Coombe House and all that you strive to do to improve the lives of loved ones who are elderly needing special help, with (or without) dementia.

With our very best regards to you

names and address withheld.

Being a relative at Coombe House:
Margaret Hainsworth talks to her son Charles.

What made you decide to send Eric into Coombe House?

Eric, my husband, had got to the stage where I couldn’t leave him for any longer than two hours and I was getting tired.
When he woke in the night, I would also wake up wondering what he would do.
I often couldn’t get back to sleep again.
Just to keep the house going and buy food I needed time to do things so I put Eric into Coombe House for two mornings a week, Tuesday and Friday.
However, this was not enough.
I was getting more ill looking after Eric and I would get cross with him for his condition then get cross with myself for getting cross! Eric then went into Coombe House for whole days.
I realised that Eric would have to go into a Home for extended respite so I started looking at all the Homes for people with dementia but I couldn’t find anywhere else that would have been right for him.
At that stage Eric could dress himself, shower and feed himself.
He was not incontinent.
He could talk, but had no conversation.
After two periods of respite at Coombe House, Ann Gray phoned and said there was a permanent bed available for Eric.
I was reluctant to send Eric in as I did not want him to leave our home and me.
However, Ann gave me time to think and talk to the family.
We all talked and thought I should take up the offer even though I thought I could manage for a little longer.
After all, another bed might not have been available for some time.
As a family, we had a last week-end and meal out together.
We helped him get into the taxi to Coombe House.
I felt very guilty that I was doing this.
I would encourage anyone to take a bed if it is offered, despite their feelings.

What is the relationship like at Coombe House between the staff and residents?

This is very good.
They are all one big family and, because the staff don’t wear uniform, there is no distinction between them and the residents.
The staff are very understanding and treat each resident as an individual.
They seem to know what each person needs and this helps them stay calm.
One resident wants to get on a bus to Liskeard so they have made a pretend bus stop for him just outside the door.
Another stays in her room a lot and staff put on soft music for her.
The staff allow the residents to do what they want and go where they want, within reason.
Sometimes Eric wanted to stay in bed in the mornings, sometimes he didn’t go to bed at all in the night! Once I saw one of the residents wandering around in her pyjamas.
They can go into the kitchen and can chat there.
The meals are in the dining room but the residents can eat where they like.
The staff don’t argue with the residents and this also keeps them calm. The environment at Coombe House is lovely.
There is a beautiful garden and the residents can wander there.
One of the staff used to take Eric and give him a swing.
The dining room has display boards and sometimes the residents have craft sessions.
The results are displayed.
The tables, when not used for meals, are covered with colourful objects and toys.
There are quite a few dolls and some of the residents take comfort from these.
The residents can have some of their own furniture.
Eric had lots of photographs from home and his doctor’s bag.
He had a memory book.
Each family of a resident is encouraged to provide one of these.
Eric’s was a photo album that had photos from his life in.
This was left around the place and I used to look at it with him every time I went.
He did not know anything about it by then but liked looking at it and loved the picture of our old house.

How did you establish a relationship with Coombe House?

think it’s very important for relatives, especially spouses, to have a good relationship with Coombe House and maintain contact with their loved ones.
I used to see Eric on a Tuesday and a Saturday.
I used to stay for lunch on a Tuesday and I felt a part of Coombe House and close to Eric even though it was difficult knowing what to do when I was there.
Eric was sometimes asleep so I went round the other residents and got to know them.
They all have their own personalities despite their disease and we had a bit of a laugh at times.
It’s really important to keep a sense of humour.
It helped me through and I got to know the staff well.
Relatives are welcome to lunches, which are delicious.
The food is brilliant.
Sometimes I helped Eric feed himself.
I used to bake cakes for the residents, I did this partly as payment and thanks for the meals, but it helped me feel part of Eric’s life still.
I think I was famous for my cakes at Coombe House! Even though, towards the end, he didn’t really know who I was, or our children, Eric seemed to know when someone who loved him was there.
He was very secure and somehow knew that the staff loved him as well.
At Christmas, families are encouraged to go to Coombe House and they make a cake and a bit of a fuss when a resident has a birthday.
When Eric was close to his death someone on the staff team stayed in his room overnight and someone was with him when he died.
The staff kept us fully informed, in a very kind way, all the way through this time.
My children and I had been in to say our goodbyes to Eric.
I knew that they preferred residents to die in the Home and not in hospital, if at all possible.
You can have a wonderful relationship with Coombe House.
You have to accept the way they run it.
They do a brilliant job and I consider myself, and Eric, to have been very fortunate to have had the place.

What should relatives expect of the disease as time goes on?

Even though I wanted Eric to get a little better, and I looked for it every time I went, I knew he wouldn’t.
With dementia, people will get worse despite having lucid moments.
This will affect memory, speech and personality.
Don’t worry if they start doing strange things like swearing and getting a little bit aggressive.
The way the Home is run reduces the aggression a lot but it can be upsetting to see.
Eric hit my daughter, Ruth, once.
He never used to swear but said that one of the staff was “bloody daft” ! We had a good laugh at that.

You’ve got to laugh and never get down.