As I arrive at this pretty one storey house in Setagaya (a leafy suburb of Tokyo) I receive a warm welcome from the manager Mrs Nobuko Tsuboi. She speaks good English and so I instantly feel at ease. Today I am visiting Ketara Home – a group home and a day centre for people with dementia. I am now getting used to exchanging my shoes for slippers at the door and I do so without prompting.
As I walk into the day centre I see that this once private house still retains its homely style. This is an open plan house with 2 seating areas, a large dining table and a small kitchen. Mrs Tsuboi advises me that we will all be having lunch together. There is a hive of activity in the kitchen – two ladies are chopping vegetables and another lady is cleaning the salad. Before not too long more ladies volunteer to help and they each have their own jobs with staff providing encouragement and support. At the dining table a lady is making potato salad and she welcomes me in English and tells me she worked at the city Government before she retired. Another lady is helping place fish into baking trays and another is cutting melon.
At the seating area a lady is reading out today’s menu to a group of ladies and when she finishes everyone claps. Today we are having Chinese soup, potato salad, salmon, broccoli, carrots and then melon. One lady is sitting with a book, some ladies are talking to staff, whilst a man and another lady sit chatting at a quiet area near the piano.
Mrs Tsuboi advises that there are 14 people with dementia and 8 staff (including one nurse, 2 cooks and care staff). She tells me that 30% of people who attend are aged over 90. People are predominantly at moderate stage of their dementia. There is one young person with dementia in her 50s. She likes shopping so her job is to go to the local shops to buy the vegetables.
As Mrs Tsuboi introduces everyone individually to me I can tell this is a lady who is in the right job – her compassion shines through and she brings such joy to the faces of the people she interacts with. It is clear that she knows everyone very well but still gently prompts people to tell me something about themselves, like the job they used to do, their age and about their families.
I am introduced to a 96 year old lady. As we rely on a colleague translating for us, she suddenly starts speaking Italian and I am then able to have a conversation with her directly despite my very broken Italian. She tells me that her aunt was a painter in Italy and that on her return to Japan after 53 years had forgotten how to speak Japanese and so she had interacted with her in Italian. She tells me how much she likes to come to this facility and how nice the lunches are. Another lady has now voluntarily come to help with the lunch, she is helping staff with setting the table, another lady is counting the plates and another is placing the chopsticks on the table. The room is filled with smiles, chatting but also calmness amongst the busy lunch preparations.
As we all sit together and enjoy lunch we talk about the typhoon which is forecast for later this evening. They ask about Scotland and for once I am grateful for Scottish weather (no typhoons or earthquakes)! The food is nutritious and delicious. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Mrs Tsuboi, I eat with a fork as an alternative to chopsticks, and drink English tea from a cup & saucer with a thistle on it, which she has specifically selected for me. Mrs Tsuboi tells me that this house was once her family home. It still retains such a homely atmosphere. The staff advise me that there is no rush to eat lunch, one lady takes a whole hour to eat lunch but eats everything with very gentle encouragement. She is smiling at the carer and others around the table.
As I leave the day centre and make my way to the Group Home, I think about the ladies making lunch and how happy they are being able to do things that they have difficulty doing in their own homes. There are no sophisticated list of activities, the focus is on enabling people with dementia to continue to do the daily activities they have always enjoyed.
More on the Group Home to follow on my next blog.
Thank you to Ms Yumi Shindo for organising this visit which has left me with such happy memories.