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Supporting older people with learning disabilities and their families
Supporting older people with learning disabilities and their families

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2 Living well in Shared Lives

The researchers who spent time with Geoff in his Shared Lives placement were struck by how calm and contented he seemed each time they visited. It was clear that he enjoyed his life and had a routine that worked well for him. This comprised of activities on the farm alongside time spent with the family.

Activity 2 Life on the farm

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Read this extract from the researcher’s fieldnotes.

I head down to the plucking shed. There are a bunch of partridges hanging in the corner of the small wooden hut. One bird is already plucked, and Geoff is on with another...After watching Geoff pluck for some time, the repetition is almost therapeutic. He tells me about plans for the geese on the farm as some of them are going to be Christmas gifts for friends and family. Geoff provides an almost constant narrative and speaks with quiet confidence. A lot of the commentary is about the animals and about what he has been doing or planning to do on the farm. Since I was last here, he has moved a chicken run and a hut from one side of the farm to the other. He shows me the logs he used to move them they look incredibly heavy and cumbersome but when Geoff says he moved them without any assistance I have no trouble at all believing it possible. Later on, Ian tells me that Geoff loves his animals, referring to many of them in individual ways and whilst he breeds them for food, he does not want to be part of the process at the end. In a defeated turn and expression, Ian says it is too late now and he will be head slaughter man for as long as Geoff lives or wishes to continue breeding which Ian imagines will be forever. He says he accepts this but feels weird about it, because Ian is a vegetarian and believes in karma. The family live in a large farmhouse. It feels old and cosy and relaxed. Geoff makes himself some food. He has a sandwich with meat of some kind and cucumber, and on the side he has a chunk of fruit cake and some blue cheese. I am sat at the dining table again now, Jackie has left to get ready to go to town. Geoff joins me at the table and then Maddie the dog joins us, sitting on a dining chair next to Geoff watching his sandwich closely. This feels like it might be their usual routine and Geoff doesn’t seem to mind. I try to make small talk but I get the impression that Geoff is here to fuel up and have a little rest before heading back out to the farm. On another occasion, Ian is making dinner. It looks like a pasta bake and I can smell the garlic. Ian says they eat a lot of garlic. He says most of the people who they used to support when support workers in supported living settings are now obese and don’t eat well – unlike at their house. Gill encourages Geoff to go on holiday so that he can get some rest. She said he slept a lot last week and she needs to encourage him to get away from the animals every now and again so that he will rest like that... Gill tells me that she loves Geoff, that there is something about him and she's so glad she can provide a home where people can live how they wish. She gets a little emotional, her eyes fill up a little. People have their own room and their own space and there is nothing ‘servicey’ in the house. However, the researchers who visited felt that it feels like Gill and Ian’s house. It looks like they have chosen the furniture and décor, and there are portraits of them with their children when they were younger hanging in the living room. There are no photos of the other people living there and nothing on display that reflects their personality or interests.

Do you think that Geoff is being supported across all aspects of the Quilt of Excellence (ageing well, living well, a caring environment for all)?

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Make notes on aspects of the researcher’s note that prompted further questions for you.

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There are clearly many benefits to Geoff of living with Ian and Gill on their smallholding. Not only is he supported to spend time doing the things he loves, the work also enables him to keep active and healthy. This is supplemented by what appears to be a healthy and varied diet - nutrition is clearly of importance to Ian and Gill – and an acknowledgment that Geoff needs to be encouraged to rest. People with learning disabilities are at high risk of health inequalities, with lack of exercise and poor nutrition often being contributing factors. Despite being in his seventies, Geoff is active, with a routine and clear sense of purpose. The anecdote about Ian slaughtering the animals also shows that the Shared Lives carers are able to put the needs of Geoff above their own. The researcher has also observed deep bonds between the family and Geoff; Gill openly talks about love.

But you may also have been surprised to learn that despite living at the house for seven years, there are no pictures or mementos that reflect Geoff in the main areas of the house. Perhaps these are confined to Geoff’s bedroom – we don’t know. You may also have noticed that there is very little discussion about relationships outside of the home.

There are many positive aspects to Geoff’s life with his Shared Lives carers. But just like people living at home with their own family carers, people being supported through Shared Lives need opportunities to plan ahead.