Have care homes changed since the 1970s? Is dementia inevitable? The face of modern care

PUBLISHED: 13:39 22 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:53 24 July 2017

Furze Hill House manager Ellie Cant who is retiring. Pictured playing dominoes with Pauline Nicholls, left, and Mary Byrne. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Furze Hill House manager Ellie Cant who is retiring. Pictured playing dominoes with Pauline Nicholls, left, and Mary Byrne. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

Have care homes changed since the 1970s? Is dementia inevitable? Jo Malone meets Ellie Cant, care manager at the Salvation Army’s Furze Hill House in North Walsham, retiring after 38 years’ experience of working in older people’s social care.

“It’s easy to feel that you are going to have a dementia when you get old, but it is not inevitable.”

Reassuring words from a woman who should know.

After 38 years working in the care industry, the majority with elderly people, Ellie Cant has seen and cared for a lot of people living with a dementia.

But she has seen and cared for a lot more who are, quite simply, just ageing. “We have to remind ourselves that cognitive degeneration is not necessarily part of ageing. People are living longer and there are people with cognitive degeneration and there are people who are cognitively intact.

“It [dementia] is not going to happen to everyone,” says Ellie.

Ellie started in the care industry after having children, having previously worked in banking.

As a child, a local character known fondly as ‘rum weather chum’ (because that’s what he used to repeat), made a deep impression on her. She longed to make a difference in his life and for others like him.

“Years later though I worked in a care home and that same gentleman came to live there and we provided a safe place for him for the last years of his life,” says Ellie. She absolutely adores her work.

“Every resident I have worked for has been a character in one way or another. They are all individuals and you cannot help but get close to them,” she says.

“I have found it a fantastically rewarding career,” adds Ellie, feeling she’s always had a natural affinity with elderly people.

“I am now getting residents coming here who are two years older than me. That’s a bit of a wake-up call,” she says, feeling that she won’t face her retirement until she’s actually taken off her badge for the last time.

Even then she’s hoping to return, perhaps to lead music sessions.

“Caring is not something that just stops,” she adds. “I have loved being at Furze Hill – and to work for the Salvation Army as a Christian, charitable organisation has been the ‘icing on the cake’ of my career.”

Ellie feels that residential care has changed significantly since she started in the profession 38 years ago. It used to be for people who could mostly look after themselves and wanted some company, now there is barely a line between residential care and nursing care, she feels.

“People are being encouraged to stay in their own homes with domicillary assistance so by the time they need to come into residential care they need more support,” says Ellie.

She adds that in modern care homes there is an increasing emphasis on enhancing the lives of residents too – focusing on what they can do.

“It is so important it is a vibrant environment and that we encourage people to live well and have enjoyment,” she says.

”Whatever your illness or disability or diagnosis there is no reason why you should not have enjoyment of life.”

Ellie says building up a relationship with a resident’s family is an integral part of caring, and another reason she loves her work – and will miss it.

“You know that when a resident comes into permanent care it will probably be for the rest of their life – and it is essential that we are able to support them from the day they move in until the end of their life.”

“We are often a shoulder to cry on for families and loved ones,” she adds.

One of the many things Ellie has learnt while supporting residents, their families and those caring for a person with dementia is to be as flexible as possible, while reminding family carers to remember their own wellbeing.

She suggests not worrying if things don’t go to plan - have a Plan B ready.

“Depersonalise the situation. It can be challenging caring for a loved one but a person with dementia isn’t trying to be difficult, they are usually just finding it hard to express themselves,” she says.

Consider what may have triggered their behaviour if they do become suddenly distressed or behave unpredictably.

Plus, make sure you have a break and build your own support network, she advises.

Ellie offers more ideas for people caring for someone with a dementia:


Stimulate their senses


•Add colour to a room with bright cushions, decorations and walls

•Play recordings of their favourite music or sounds

•Keep fragrant plants and flowers inside the home and in the garden

•Have lots of photos of friends, family and favourite places in frames and albums


Involve them in everyday activities and encourage hobbies


•For those who can get restless, perhaps about the time they would be welcoming children home from school, preparing dinner or arriving home from work, channel their energy into something productive.

•Knitting, doing a crossword, drawing, or listening to music or a walk may help. For others, a practical household task such as gardening, cooking, folding clothes or polishing shoes will make them feel better. Sometimes a simple walk in the garden is all that’s needed.

For more information on what’s involved in working in adult social care visit; for jobs, visit

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