Dignity can be a difficult concept to describe; the dictionary defines it as “the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”. The Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity described dignity in care as therefore “the kind of care, in any setting, which supports and promotes, and does not undermine, a person’s self-respect regardless of any difference.” Or, as one person receiving care put it more briefly, “Being treated like I was somebody”. Those in care can often suffer more than most when it comes to feeling undignified; depressed, ignored, useless.
Dignity Action Day, held on the 1st February, is an annual opportunity for volunteers, those who work in care, and the general public to spend some time giving those needing care their dignity back, while raising awareness on how important it is to support caregivers and those who use care services.
What is Dignity Action Day?
The Dignity in Care campaign
Dignity Action Day is an event run by the Dignity in Care campaign, launched in 2006. Its core value is to keep dignity in our hearts, minds and actions, in order to change the “culture of services” and to place a “greater emphasis on improving the quality of care and the experience of citizens using services”, including community services, NHS hospitals, care homes and home support services.
The 10 Dignity Do’s
The campaign encourages its volunteers (all 116,000 of them!) to adhere to their “10 Dignity Do’s”, designed from the outcomes of focus groups held up and down the country. The list includes things such as respecting privacy and enabling people to maintain levels of independence and choice, as well as having zero tolerance for abuse, and engaging with family members and carers as care partners. You can see the full list of “do’s” here.
Dignity Action Day
Dignity Action Day first ran in 2010, and has continued to grow since. Its intention is not necessarily for “grand gestures” but rather taking time to do something for those in care; especially on the 1st, but ideally for the whole month of February. Small but consistent actions act as a reminder for those receiving care, caregivers, and society as a whole that dignity and respect are not only important, but not so hard to achieve if you take the time.
What can I do?
The Dignity in Care website has a range of ideas for those looking to get involved. These include serious events, such as hosting open days to showcase services, running conferences or Q&A sessions or arranging visits to schools or local community groups, but also more fun ideas like organising treats, hobby classes or special guest visits, or (our favourite, and their best known event!) hosting a “Digni-Tea” event; providing tea, cake and chat, while raising money for the campaign in the process! Don’t forget to print off flyers, and copies of the 10 Dignity Do’s to hand out. You can see more ideas and information about the day in their action pack available here.
1 - Dignity for those in care
It can be difficult to feel dignified if you are being cared for; not being able to do all you used to can make you feel like a burden, or worthless. There are ways however for carers to help restore some dignity.
Dignity is about respect. Showing someone that you respect them, their emotions and their opinions, can go far to improving their feelings of self-worth. One of the most important ways you can show respect is giving them choices and including them in discussions and decisions.
Food and drink
Nobody wants an unappealing meal, and being reliant on someone else for our sustenance can leave us feeling trapped, so the least carers can do is ensure food looks and tastes good. Even better is if carers can get the person involved! Ask them to help out in the kitchen with easy jobs like washing vegetables, or sit down with them to create meal plans. These are simple acts that can directly boost their dignity.
Not everyone in care is able to keep good hygiene, leading to discomfort and embarrassment. The more often they wash, the better they will feel, even if it just washing their face on low-energy days. They may find it awkward at first, but the more often you help them (with their permission), the quicker and more comfortable it will become to do. Being able to face the day feeling clean is a real mood-booster!
Too many older people live in pain, not wishing to make a fuss. Knowing how to detect pain is important, as is knowing how to encourage discussion about it. They may not wish to take medication at first, but hopefully they will become more open and willing to over time. It’s also important to keep them involved and informed when it comes to administering any kind of medication.
One of the most common negative feelings for those in care is loneliness. Attending events and being an active member of society can boost their happiness. Help them look for local hobby clubs, or see about running open community events if they live in a home. Having a social life can give them a sense of purpose and make them feel like less isolated.
A caregiver is not a parent. Treat the person you care for with the same respect that you would anyone else; always knock before entering their room (except in cases of emergency), close doors if you are helping them dress, and ask if it is okay to move their items when cleaning. Asking shows them that you respect their autonomy, and will help them trust you.
Emotional support can be given via the simplest of actions, such as listening to someone’s concerns or asking their opinion. Getting old can be tough, so try to understand what they’re going through, offering solutions where you can or just a friendly ear where you can’t. Knowing someone will listen shows that they value your feelings, which is something that we all want, no matter our age.
2 - Dignity for caregivers
Dignity in care shouldn’t end with those using the services. Care work can be challenging, and the people who provide it deserve dignity in their work just as much as those receiving care.
A lot of it is about investment, be it time, money or effort, and showing people that they are valued. By investing in your carers, you show that they are important and trusted, and this helps them value the work that they do.
Training and development
Caring for older people is a skill, and carers who have received proper training have confidence in their abilities, improving the quality of care that they give and giving them pride in their work. Giving them a chance to further develop professionally over time also shows them that you believe in them and that they are worth investing in.
Autonomy and inclusion
It’s not just about getting patients involved in decisions about their care, but caregivers as well. Taking their opinions into account will show that you trust them in a professional capacity. This also extends to giving them autonomy; showing that you trust your carers to make decisions and act independently will show them that you value their abilities and the work that they do.
It seems obvious, but ensuring that all your communications with caregivers are clear and understandable can help negate possible frustrations. Make sure that all decisions made are explained in a transparent manner, and that they know they can come speak to you if they have any queries or concerns.
Support comes in different ways, and is necessary to guarantee that carers are content and working to their best ability. Practical support can be provided by ensuring that they are not overworked. Mental support and emotional support are just as important; care work can be quite draining, and sometimes even upsetting. Show that you appreciate this by providing support, be this in the form of workshops to improve understanding, allowing flexible working patterns, or helping them access external support networks or counsellors.
SuperCarers connects you with experienced carers near you to help you live independently at home. Call us on 020 8629 1030 to find out more.
You may also be interested in our article about the importance of kindness in care.