Tomorrow World TV producer says tech makes care home wife Tricia feel less alone

Michael Blakstad spent his life making award-winning TV shows and believes more should be done to make digital media easy to use for care home residents. 

Mr Blakstad’s wife Tricia first moved into a care home in July 2020 but he says “restricted visiting meant I experienced first-hand the horrendous sense of isolation residents can have. 

“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.” 

Proper use of digital media in care homes would be ‘so powerful’

As well as buying Tricia a robot cat, which purrs and cuddles in response to being tickled or stroked, Michael 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. 

Mr Blakstad 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.” 

He feels the need for better access to digital media was heightened during the pandemic when thousands of care home residents experienced isolation because of Covid restrictions which, for many, accelerated the progress of their dementia. 

“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.” 

Michael Blakstad has Parkinson’s and his call for a nationwide rethink on the treatment of degenerative conditions originates from his work on the 1984 TV series ‘Earth Year 2050’. During the programme, experts predicted that increasing life spans would lead to a huge increase in diseases including dementia and Parkinson’s.

Mr Blakstad argues that if content and devices were better designed to be accessed more easily, then care workers could spend less time “supervising bored residents". 

“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. 

“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. 

With 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and this figure predicted to rise to two million by 2050, he says "there is a growing market for specialist technologies and facilities." 

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

Tricia gets ‘best care possible’ at St Catherines View care home

Tricia Blakstad has since moved into a different care home and her husband has nothing but praise for staff at Tricia’s new home in St Catherines View in Winchester, which is operated by Colten Care. 

Mr Blakstad’s memoirs, called ‘Mouth of the South’, is dedicated to Tricia and care staff at St Catherines View. 

He said: “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.” 

St Catherines View has qualified nurses including Admiral Nurse support. 

Mr Blakstad 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. 

“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."