“I’m doing it for her legacy” Sue Toothill – In Their Shoes

As part of Alzheimer's Awareness month, we are profiling our staff as we take a walk 'in their shoes'.

Up next is Sue Toothill, Social Life Coordinator at Radbrook nursing home, who talks about how her personal experience with her mother-in-law reinforced her decision to move into a caring role.

“Before her dementia, my mother-in-law really was larger-than-life. She had always been a huge character in the family so it was somewhat easier to spot the changes in her behaviour.

She started swearing – which was one thing she never did, and her forgetfulness became more and more apparent. It was around then that we decided it was time to take mum to a home where she could get the 24-hour support she needed.

She used to carry a taxi rank card around with her in the nursing home, and although she could never use it, I suppose it was comforting to believe that one day she would be able to leave and return home.

Unfortunately mum became more distant each time we visited which was upsetting for all of the family to watch, and as her health worsened and the dementia progressed, she subsequently lost her speech.

I always enjoyed taking photographs of her children and grandchildren to her bedside when one day, out of nowhere, she said the last two words we ever heard her say as she pointed to a baby picture of my husband and said “my son”. It was amazing to think that although the dementia had taken hold of her, something was triggered when she saw the photograph.

Visiting my mother-in-law on a regular basis meant we would often see residents in their rooms alone. This made me feel upset for their families who would often feel guilty leaving them, and I wanted to do something about it.

I had experience of what it was like to visit a loved one who had been left alone in bed all day as their health deteriorated, with no one to speak to and becoming more and more un-socialised.

I didn’t want any other families to go through the same as we did, so when I saw the advert for Activities Coordinator role at Radbrook, I jumped at the chance to make a difference.

Previous to this, I had been made redundant from the Women’s Voluntary Service where I operated the ‘meals on wheels’ which I absolutely loved! After my mother-in-law passed away I volunteered at the Alzheimer’s Society and then a Homecare Support Worker for Age UK, where I would go into vulnerable people’s homes to keep them company. I’d always wanted to be a part of something which would help others and all my roles have been so rewarding.

Being a Social Life Activities Coordinator really struck a chord with me. I knew straight away that I wanted to enrich these people’s lives, so from the moment I arrived at the home I made it my mission to get to know every single resident story. I asked them their likes, their dislikes, where they used to work, what their families were like and whether they had any pets. It really is the personal touch that makes a difference.

My favourite activities to run in the home are the reminiscence sessions. This gives everyone an opportunity to speak and we change the topic each week. Some of my favourites are ‘my happiest day’, ‘my favourite time of the year’ and ‘my biggest regret’, which really get the residents thinking.

I have been with the company for four years, and the most important thing I have learnt about our residents who are living with dementia is that everybody is individual. Personally, I believe it helps to know each and every person’s back story and also what’s important to them.

A day doesn’t go by where we don’t think about my mother-in-law, but it is the reason why I do what I do; I want to enrich other people’s lives so that her legacy can live on.

The difference is that I have walked in the shoes of our residents familys. I know exactly what they are going through, what they want from a nursing home as well as the support they need.”

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