ROBOTIC cats are the latest aid to be introduced at an innovative care home in the battle with dementia.
The arrival of pretend moggies was the idea of Mary Effie Williams, the manager of the Gwyddfor care home in Holyhead, who has been named as a shortlisted finalist at the prestigious Wales Care Awards.
“They are beautiful little things, just like real cats. They are covered in fur, they are battery operated, and they even purr!
“We’ve had them three or four months and they’re proving a very valuable tool. All our residents love them.
“One of our residents adopted a real cat, a stray, and the idea came from there. They are very therapeutic for all our residents, not just those suffering from dementia.”
Mary was nominated by husband Glyn for Excellence in Dementia Care sponsored by HC One, at the 15th Wales Care Awards at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, October 19.
The awards are organised by Care Forum Wales, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Mary, aged 55, entered the care sector in 1981 when she was 19 with her initial training provided by a convent-run hospital on the island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides, where she was brought up.
She married Glyn in 1982 when he was in the RAF and followed him around the world working in various care homes.
In 2004 Glyn, now 56, retired from the RAF and he and Mary bought Gwyddfor residential home in Holyhead.
Mother of three Mary said: “We have 27 residents at Gwyddfor, 11 of them suffering from dementia, which is a very cruel disease.
“You have to be very patient with dementia sufferers, but once you get to know them properly there is an amazing transformation. You have to be special person to work in a residential home like this and fortunately all our staff are.”
When Mary is not at work she can be found on her computer at home at Llanerchymedd on Anglesey. “I’m always looking for new ways of treating our residents. I’m always looking outside the box.”
The idea to buy a residential home came solely from Mary, says Glyn.
Her main motivation was to make a difference to the way in which dementia care was provided.
Mary’s philosophy is to provide dementia care through the medium of play. Her input led to Gwyddfor winning the RCF – Research Capability Funding – dementia project award in 2014.
Glyn says training is a passion for Mary and she is always keen to pass on her knowledge to junior staff members.
She has undertaken Train the Trainer courses, she is an Institute of Safety and Health qualified moving and handling instructor, a fully qualified first aid instructor, and she has developed in-house course in all of these.
“Mary has a unique ability to identify underlying issues which may be acting a a trigger for people suffering dementia,” said Glyn.
“We had a married couple move into Gwyddfor a few years ago. The husband had severe dementia with very difficult and challenging issues.
“Mary quickly identified that a lack of ability to communicate was triggering the issues. She resolved this simply by a whiteboard and pen.
“The first words the husband wrote to the wife were ‘I love you’. His care was transformed by this simple aid.”
Glyn says Mary is the key person for pre-admission assessments, which involves intensive family liaison.
“Mary knows a great deal about outdated practice having worked in the care sector for 37 years,” said Glyn.
“Dementia care through play is her motto.”
Mary and Glyn, who looks after the finances, staff rotas, health and safety, and is part of the general team at Gwyddfor, have three sons – Ashley, 23, and 18-year-old twins Sean and Haydn.
“There is a bar attached to the home which serves proper pints,” says Mary. “Our residents like nothing better than to enjoy a drink at the end of the day.”
And of her nomination and shortlisting, Mary said: “I feel very privileged and honoured. I can’t wait for the ceremony.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.
He said: “This year’s ceremony is an even more special occasion because it marks the 15th anniversary of the Wales Care Awards and the 25th anniversary of Care Forum Wales and the event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.
“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.
“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.”