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Sweet Tree Fields workers relax after a planting session

As our parents grow older and we become busier, the problem of how to care for them seems harder to solve. In many cases what they really need is help to look after themselves, so they can remain in their own homes and retain some semblance of independence.

SweetTree Home Care Services was founded in 2002 to provide just this kind of service – high-quality care and support to people with all levels of need, providing them with dignity, independence and control over their lives.

Dementia, learning disabilities, acquired brain injuries and neurological conditions are all covered, and end-of-life support is also available. With 400 people helping 650 clients, a huge amount of support can be given to a large number of people. Barry Sweetbaum, founder of SweetTree, believes the benefits stretch way beyond the person being cared for.

Founder Barry Sweetbaum and operations director Niki Bones

Founder Barry Sweetbaum and operations director Nicki Bones

“Helping clients and their families and friends to maintain positive, constructive relationships is a crucial part of the assistance we provide,” he says Barry and his operations director Nicki Bones set up the organisation to create a model of care that focuses on improving quality of life, rather than just delivering the functional care and support for which the sector is sometimes known. SweetTree seeks to influence people’s lives by creating active, meaningful experiences for each client during every visit.

Every SweetTree team member participates in a comprehensive training and induction programme, which includes a Jewish Way of Life course. The company has been ranked 18th best company to work for in the UK by The Sunday Times and won an Investors in People gold award in 2012.

SweetTree works with private clients and those who have been referred by GPs, social services, the NHS and other care-related bodies. In each case, the company provides a free, no-obligation assessment and does not require minimum contractual periods.

The team work with clients and their families to gather full details about their preferences, lifestyle, hobbies and interestsBarry and Nicki. From this, a person-centred care programme is created. Says Barry: “SweetTree really wants clients to lead fulfilling and active lives, so as well as supporting them at home, the care team accompany them on social outings or medical appointments.

They regularly help people to enjoy an evening out at the theatre, a morning in synagogue or even a holiday abroad.”

It’s not all about providing care – SweetTree provides other services, including a handyman to put up shelves or pictures or do the odd bit of decorating, and an IT manager who helps clients learn skills such as email and Skype so clients can keep in touch with their grandchildren.

Other initiatives include SweetTree Fields, a care farm in Mill Hill offering a range of guided activities including horticulture, forestry and animal care, all designed to create positive experiences within a safe, nurturing environment.

Helping out: a day in the busy life of carer Lauren

I start early with a very lovely lady with mild-to-moderate dementia. She needs help around the home, remembering appointments and often gets lonely living on her own. She also has a permanent hip difficulty which means mobility is very difficult. “I have a fantastic rapport with her; I give her a big greeting on arrival and make her some breakfast (her favourite is honey on toast), before catching up for the days I haven’t seen her, giving relevant tablets, watering her plants, washing, cooking up a few meals and generally tidying around the house.

“She often goes upstairs to finish her hair or makeup and I’ll pop up to see if she wants me to get anything done – tidying her room and generally completing tasks she finds difficult such as making her bed and hanging up clothes. “All the while we have music on and we will be singing away. I’ll look in her fridge and freezer to check how much food she has and often we’ll pop to the nearest supermarket.

I promote her independence as much as possible. We’ll go down every aisle, so if there is anything else she fancies we can get it. “Then we may pop into a café to have a coffee and cake before we catch the bus home. All the while I am aware of when she’s tiring, when to slow down and when to ask her if she needs anything.

“In the afternoon I then provide companionship for a lovely lady with early-onset Alzheimer’s. “We love spending time out and about. I always let her take the lead and she likes popping to nice restaurants and cafés. I know to go to places she knows well, so she is able to orient herself and enjoy her time out.

“She loves to sing, to dance and to chat to people and has a fantastic sense of humour – so this is exactly what we do together! We walk along chatting and laughing, and we’ll pop into her favourite shops and have a good look at the clothes that we both like.”

“I also liaise with her live-in carer and daughter; for example, there may be house items we need to grab or a prescription we need to collect and we always fit in these tasks around our fun-filled day. The whole time I spend with her she reminisces about her life, her week and I love just being her friend.

Sheila’s story

Sheila Hunter, aged 83, lives with her daughter Jules and son-in-law Chris at their home in Islington. Sheila has early-stage Alzheimer’s and receives support from SweetTree carers. Jules said: “The two carers from SweetTree are more like friends.

We can really see the benefit and effect of helping mum to keep her brain and body active, and believe this will help to slow the progress of the disease.” Sheila says: “The people at SweetTree are very kind and I find their visits enjoyable and stimulating.”

SweetTree is supporting National Dementia Carers Day on Sunday 14 September, a national campaign recognising the dedication and efforts of the thousands of informal carers across the UK who care for loved ones with dementia. This year the focus will be ‘Creating Special Moments’ and informal carers are being asked to share the ways in which they create special moments for those they look after.

Over the coming months, all the tips and ideas for helping people with the condition will be collected on a website at www.nationaldementiacarersday.org.uk. These ideas will then be shared to help recognise and inform the practice of the UK’s informal carers.