Care Managers Book Club: The Housemates
In this month’s Care Managers Book Club, Care Managers Show content manager Sophie Davies is challenged to change the way she thinks about dementia care by Teun Toebes’ The Housemates.
Dementia is on the rise worldwide, with the number of cases projected to exceed 150 million by 2050. With this in mind, do we need to re-evaluate the way we currently care for people who are living with dementia?
At the age of 21, Teun Toebes, a nursing student from The Netherlands with a keen interest in dementia, made the bold decision to move into a care home and live with the residents as his ‘housemates’. He documented this experience in The Housemates, which became a number 1 bestseller in his home country and sparked national debate around dementia care.
From the outset of the book, Teun makes it clear that his intention is not to attack care providers or care workers themselves, but to critique the system which has created a barrier between people with dementia and the rest of society. In doing this, he seeks to change the way his readers view and treat people who are living with dementia.
Teun argues that we tend to infantilise people with dementia and talk about them rather than to them about what they want. He asks us to remember that they aren’t children – they’re adults who just get confused sometimes. They’re still able to have adult conversations and are interested in the same things that they always were.
One thing that strikes Teun as he spends time living in the care home is the lack of purpose that residents have. He observes that many of them are simply living from meal to meal until bedtime, with little activity to fill their days. He also comments on how off-putting care homes can look from the outside, separating the residents from society, and how clinical they can feel on the inside due to safety concerns – from bright lights and artificial plants to the lack of freedom that residents have to customise their own rooms.
To liven things up a bit, he starts hosting Friday afternoon drinks in his room. In the summer, he arranges for a caravan to be parked in the home’s courtyard and residents spend their evenings out there, enjoying the nice weather. At one point, he takes a resident on a road trip to visit her son and sees her thrive when she’s spending time away from the home in the outside world.
Considering his age, some might accuse Teun of being naïve. However, he recognises that he is in a unique position to organise these sorts of activities as someone who lives in the home without working there. He understands that care workers have busy workloads which often don’t allow time for them to sit down and chat with residents, let alone take them on individual outings.
This is where the wider community must come in, Teun says. He encourages members of the public to help out by volunteering at care homes, spending one-to-one time with residents, and donating items that could form the basis of fun activities.
Teun is undeniably passionate and opinionated about all things related to dementia care. In fact, he opens the book by telling us that people around him often say: “If you’re talking to Teun, it’s bound to be about dementia.” And there are times where the book does begin to feel a little repetitive, making the same points multiple times. However, his enthusiasm is infectious and his message is certainly a powerful one.
The Housemates succeeds in challenging the status quo when it comes to dementia care and ‘how things have always been done.’ It serves as a persuasive call to action for readers to change their way of thinking and positions dementia as something we should all take more of an interest in, because it’s only going to become more prevalent in our futures.
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