Communicating Frailty


An opinion piece by Melissa March, CEO and co-founder of L4AMelissa March

One of the challenges of our work is the huge increase in frailty that we are seeing amongst older people. This has changed hugely since our charity began working in care homes in 2008. The people we work with have much higher needs and are much more frail than we could have anticipated back then.

This was particularly apparent to me when I returned to work in September 2016 after 13.5 months of maternity leave. It was like levelling up in the challenges that they people we worked with face, but also in the challenges that we faced trying to engage them in different types of learning. This is also true for the levels of dementia and the prevalence of this condition that we are now working with.


At L4A, we are keen to celebrate the successes achieved by our volunteers and the great work of our staff. To share our good news stories and to change the negative, damaging narrative about later life care for older people.

To this end, we are guilty to sharing photos of our most able learners creating beautiful art work or engaging effectively with primary school children and volunteers. The irony is that those who are able to give their explicit informed consent for photos and case studies to be shared in this way, are usually the more cognitive and able few. They are not always representative of our work at large and it is a longer journey for us to get those with power of attorney to consent to sharing the stories of their relatives.

There are times when we are very proud of our groups specifically because an unknowing bystander would not know who had dementia, who was suffering with particular ill health at that time and who was, relatively, ok – everyone was being able to participate equally and well in the group. This is not always the case but it is always our aim.

As a society, we generally know that people are older, perhaps slower to move about or slightly deaf, maybe. What we are not always clear about is quite how frail and unwell most of the 200 or so older people that L4A works with are. L4A needs to get better at communicating this so that the achievements of our volunteers can continue to be properly recognised, adequately funded and our organisation’s successes can be truly appreciated.

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