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Retired TV producer turns care home campaigner in Hampshire

Retired TV producer turns care home campaigner

A Hampshire family's experience of dementia care and what can be done to improve it

Michael Blakstad

Ed Note: This is a compelling story about a Hampshire family’s experience of dementia care and what can be done to improve it. The story also highlights the benefits of easy-to-use digital media for people living with dementia. This was heightened during lockdown when so many people faced isolation, prompting a campaign by a tech savvy former TV producer for digital media to be far more readily available in care homes. 

Ex-TV producer praises ‘particularly wonderful’ team for wife’s dementia care

A personal account of a family’s dementia journey, including praise for ‘particularly wonderful’ carers, has been revealed in the memoirs of a retired TV producer turned care home campaigner.

Michael Blakstad has been helped to print copies of his life story by Colten Care who own and run the dedicated dementia care home where his wife Tricia has been a resident for the past year.

The family chose St Catherines View in Winchester after a search for a home staffed and equipped to accommodate all stages of dementia.

But their overall experience of the care sector before that, particularly during the pandemic, has prompted Michael to call for fundamental changes in how we approach the growing challenge of degenerative conditions among elderly people.

Michael, who is 82 and lives with Parkinson’s disease, had a successful career in national television, making award-winning programmes such as Tomorrow’s World for the BBC and many science documentaries.

He devotes part of his memoirs to the importance of professional nursing being available in care homes so that if a resident’s needs change over time they can remain where they are.

“Homes which can only look after residents in the early stages of dementia are reluctant to admit that they will not be able to cope if the condition gets worse,” he said. “They should be clear about what they provide and not say ‘nursing’ or ‘dementia’ if that’s not what they do.”

After researching homes potentially able to accommodate Tricia’s advancing dementia, the family settled on St Catherines View. It is relatively near East Meon, the Hampshire village where they lived for years.

As well as the availability of qualified nurses, including Admiral Nurse support, the family were reassured by the home’s intelligent and sensitive interpretation of Covid public health requirements.

“St Catherines View struck us as having the best attitude and atmosphere and it was a great relief when they told us they would accept Tricia,” said Michael, who also had two months of respite care at the home last year. “When she moved there, the more enlightened policies of Colten Care seemed to improve her physical, if not her cognitive, health.

“Of course, like other homes, the staff have been constrained by the impact of Covid but they have been able to maintain outstanding care and continue to facilitate visiting with considerate interpretation of the constraints.Michael and Tricia Blakstad share time together at Colten Care’s St Catherines View in Winchester

“All carers are wonderful but at St Catherines View they are particularly wonderful. Colten Care train their staff so well."

“They have also got the environment right, with the building divided into small house groups and teams, and with ready access to a beautiful, purpose-designed garden.

“Tricia has had the best care possible at every stage of her time at St Catherines View otherwise I am sure her dementia would be worse.”

A case for making digital media more available and easy to use for care home residents

Following his career in television, Michael retains a strong interest in technology and believes far more should be done to make digital media available and easy to use for care home residents.

He feels the need for better access was heightened during the pandemic when thousands of residents, including Tricia, had to experience periods of isolation because of Covid restrictions that in many cases only served to accelerate the progress of their dementia.

She first went into care in July 2020 at a different care home in a retirement village they had moved to after leaving East Meon.

“Restricted visiting meant I experienced first-hand the horrendous sense of isolation residents can have,” said Michael. “I wanted to ease that experience for Tricia as she had to isolate when she first went into a care home and again each time she returned from hospital after having a fall.”

For example, a digital library of familiar music and photos and clips   

As well as buying Tricia a robot cat, which purrs and cuddles in response to being tickled or stroked, Michael had earlier used his technical production skills to create a library of her favourite music videos, family photos and clips from films, TV shows and home movies which he played to her on his iMac and other devices.

Michael said: “She had gained great relief from being able to view the digital material when I came into visit but, because of lockdown, all that stopped and suddenly there was nothing. Her decline was immediate.

“If more money was put into the proper use of digital media for residents in care homes, it would be so powerful.

“There would be so many opportunities for interaction through video and audio.

“So much good could come from that, not only for people living with early or advanced dementia but many other conditions too.

“If content and devices were better designed to be accessed more easily, then carers need spend less time supervising bored residents who, in turn, would enjoy the time spent interacting with the screen.

“I can’t help speculating that Tricia’s condition might not have deteriorated so rapidly during her periods of isolation had she had more distractions.

“Rethinking how people access digital media could also improve end of life experiences, so providing relief for residents and their carers.”

Michael’s call for a nationwide rethink on the treatment of degenerative conditions stems from work he did on a 1984 TV series called Earth Year 2050.

In it, various experts predicted that increasing life spans would lead to a huge increase in diseases including dementia and Parkinson’s.

A radio star

When the pandemic hit, Michael responded to an on-air invitation for listeners of the BBC Radio 4 breakfast news programme Today to get in touch if they had experienced a challenging lockdown situation.

“I was amazed when they rang back asking to interview me,” he recalled. “I was even more surprised when they kept inviting me back because the feedback from listeners was so powerful.”

Michael went on to appear several times on the show over many months, including in head-to-head debates with government ministers.

The experience made him determined to continue publicising how Tricia and others had been affected by the pandemic and to campaign for better use of technology in care homes.

He is now in discussion with two separate university research teams as well as BBC contacts to progress his ideas.   

Michael said: “The government needs to treat the care home sector like the NHS and make it much more of a national priority.

850,00 people with dementia in the UK, predicted to rise to one million by 2025 and to double that by 2050

“There are now 850,00 people with dementia in the UK. The figure is predicted to rise to one million by 2025 and to double that by 2050, so there is a growing market for specialist technologies and facilities.   

“Care homes, like hotels, do of course offer multi-channel television services already but these are no use at all for people with dementia who cannot save or record the content when what they would like to do is watch favourite material over and over again.”

Michael has dedicated his memoirs, called Mouth of the South, to Tricia, their son, twin daughters and five grandchildren, and the team at St Catherines View.

He writes: “Mouth of the South is dedicated to Tricia 1, my beautiful and dedicated wife who supported me and our family for 55 years, and to Tricia 2, the different but equally lovable resident of St Catherines View. It is also dedicated to the nurses, carers and other staff of this care home, who are looking after her so well.”

With Colten Care’s help, Michael has printed a small number of paper copies of his memoirs for friends and family.

He is happy to provide free-of-charge digital versions to any students researching the use of media in care homes who email a request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Images

Top: Michael Blakstad

Below: Michael and Tricia Blakstad share time together at Colten Care’s St Catherines View in Winchester

Find out more about Colten Care

With more than 30 years’ experience, Colten Care is an award-winning family-owned care home company. It owns 21 quality care homes covering Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and West Sussex and offers a range of services spanning residential, nursing and dementia care. Seven of the homes are rated Outstanding by the Care Quality Commission and Colten Care earns a consistently high group score, currently 9.9 out of ten, on the public review site Carehome.co.uk. Based on such third-party advocacy, Colten Care is the UK’s highest-rated care home group for its size.

All Colten Care homes are registered for nursing care

All homes are registered for nursing care and four are dedicated dementia care homes with Admiral Nurse support. Unlike people who receive domiciliary care in their own homes, residents in Colten Care homes have the reassurance that 24/7 nurse-led care with companionship is on hand whenever they need it. Residents live in the highest standards of accommodation, enjoying homecooked food, fresh laundry and housekeeping services, and safe, peaceful and inspiring gardens. Colten Care also supports residents to raise thousands of pounds for charities of their choice every year. Founded more than 35 years ago, Colten Care has won multiple awards for the quality of its care and remains an independent, family-owned care home provider. For more information, visit www.ColtenCare.co.uk

Three Colten Care homes in the New Forest are rated outstanding

Colten Care operates six residential nursing and care homes in the New Forest, three of which are rated Outstanding and three of which are in Lymington: Belmore Lodge, Court Lodge and dementia specialist Linden House (Outstanding). There are also homes in Brockenhurst -Woodpeckers (Outstanding), New Milton - Kingfishers (Outstanding) and Mudeford - Avon Reach. Click on the links to find out more about each home... 

Colten Care's Avon Reach    Colten Care Court Lodge Lymington    Colten Care Linden House Lymington 

Colten Care Belmore Lodge Lymington    Colten Care Kingfishers New Milton    Colten Care Woodpeckers Brockenhurst

 

 

 

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