What matters most to older people – it’s the little things!

I’m Still Me
Last year UCLPartners published ‘I’m Still Me: a narrative for co-ordinated support for older people’ in association with Age UK and National Voices. Our research included interviews with 74 older people about what was important to them in their lives. The main themes to arise from the research related to independence, community interactions, decision making and terminology. The full report can be viewed here.
We hope that the report will challenge health and social care services and professionals to reflect on the services that they provide and whether they are in fact truly meeting the needs of older people. I conducted many of the interviews and despite having worked with older people for most of my 20 year career, the findings challenged many of my assumptions about what is most important to them. For the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on what older people told us matters most to them regarding the care and support they received – because it is all about the little things!
We asked people what had been good or what could be better about the care and services that they had received and almost all of the answers related to the social relationships with those who delivered the care rather than the care itself. For example, ‘I’ve had my carer for years, she’s like one of the family’, ‘my carer doesn’t have long enough to speak to me’ or ‘I have a different carer every day, I don’t feel I get to know them’. Very few people commented on the actual care that they had received – rather on, whether they had a relationship with the professional and how that had made them feel.

Remembering the ‘little things’
Everyone working within health and social care is busy – our caseloads are usually too large and we always have 101 things to do! But we all chose this career path because we wanted to help people. We need to remember this and think about how we treat people and how our actions make them feel.
Often this does not take any more time.
It can be as simple as thinking about how we refer to someone: one lady said to us ‘I like to be known by my name and not that old woman’.
It can be as simple as remembering a personal detail, asking after a relative, or commenting on last night’s Coronation Street if you know they are a fan!
It can be as simple as listening. A patient recently was describing severe, and as yet undiagnosed, pain to me and I said that I wished I could do something to help. She replied, ‘you’ve listened to me and that is enough’.
It can be as simple as remembering someone’s birthday. In my last blog I mentioned that I was in hospital on my birthday earlier this year and was greatly cheered up when the nursing staff brought me a birthday cake! I would like to think that it also cheered up some of the staff and other patients who were lucky enough to get a piece! But it was not about the cake – it was about knowing that someone had taken the time at handover to remind staff that it was my birthday and not to describe me only as the woman who had surgery on both feet. Every single member of staff who saw me that day wished me happy birthday!

‘I like the company of the carer coming into my home and I feel she’s part of it now…I wish she had more time’

‘I miss social interactions. I don’t mean going out…I mean having a good conversation’

We need to think of every patient contact as a social opportunity because that is how they see it – for them we may be their only social contact that day. So whilst we are doing what we need to do, we can engage in some social conversation and make someone smile, make them laugh, make their day slightly more bearable and make them feel that someone cares for them.

‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.’

Leo Buscaglia

Laura Stuart is frailty programme manager at UCLPartners and an occupational therapist by background. Laura.stuart@uclpartners.com @laurajstuart

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