Podcast Explores the Hidden World of Home Care for People with Dementia

Based on research led by experts from the University of Nottingham, a new podcast drama explores the complex relationship between home carers and people with dementia.

Silva Lining’s Care Plan is a moving podcast drama based on the original diaries of paid carers of people with dementia, giving a real insight into the hidden world of home care and the relationships between carer and the cared-for.

The podcast launches at an online event at 7:00 pm on 21st September. It features well-known actor and disability activist Melissa Johns (Life, Celebrity Masterchef), comedian and humanitarian Shappi Khorsandi,  actress Marlene Sidaway (Coronation Street, Mum) and Cyril Nri (This Life, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) as well as cellist Sarah Moody (The Devil’s Violin).

The unique and highly topical podcast is the creation of Elspeth Penny, a writer and director of 2BU Productions. She has based the production on the research of Justine Schneider, professor of Mental Health and Social Care from the University of Nottingham. The drama began its life as a theatrical play, based on Professor Schneider’s research into the world of home carers, performed in various theatres in 2018.

During the pandemic, in a bid to take the play in a new direction and taking into account social distancing and COVID-19 risks, Elspeth developed the work further and turned it into this heart-warming podcast drama; thanks to funding from Arts Council England.

The podcast, which was recorded entirely during the lockdown, deals movingly and sensitively with this highly charged subject. It is about what it means to be human and to care and is informed throughout by the personal experience of professional carers of people with dementia.

The story centres on Silva, a retired neurosurgeon who has dementia but has invented something extraordinary – a very special organoid. This is Brain, growing in a petri dish and fast developing a mind of its own. Karen is starting her carer career in the deep end and making some hard decisions about what to care for and what care is.

‘Silva Lining’s Care Plan is a play about care, it’s about what we care about, and it’s about getting older. We are all going to get older, or we’ve all got relatives or friends who are older,’ says Elspeth Penny.

‘How do we deal with this ageing population in a society which isn’t set up for it? In a culture and an economic system that seems to suggest it can’t afford it? Is putting people in a home the right thing? Is looking after people in the community the right thing? Should there be other alternatives, perhaps radical ones? Essentially, in the play, we are asking big questions about society. Is it ok that paid carers work on minimal wages when they need to be so highly skilled to do their jobs?’

‘Silva Lining’s Care Plan was inspired by Professor Schneider’s research on paid carers, and our carer in the play – Karen – is a domiciliary carer employed by an agency. As a society, we depend predominately on women to do the bulk of the work, often women in quite vulnerable positions because they haven’t got much choice but to work with zero-hours contracts and no security.’

‘As Karen discovers, as time goes on in the job, it gets more and more challenging to fulfil initial good intentions because of the conditions, so the play is about cultural expectations on women in caring roles and on work conditions for these women. We know the podcast gives voice to a group of people we don’t often hear from, so we hope it will touch people, open up debate, and lead to change.’

Professor Schneider said: ‘The pandemic has made us all more aware of the role of carers.  Whether we are paid to care for a stranger or provide help and support to a friend or relative, caring is complex.  How can we care for someone without being intrusive? What does ‘person-centred care’ really mean in practice?  Our research looked at the hidden world of home care for people with dementia, who may be less able to assert their opinions of the care they receive.’

‘This podcast shows people what we found through research, but in a fictional way; profound messages are conveyed through gentle humour. Through the podcast Silva Lining’s Care Plan, research insights are accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere. All credit is due to the writer and director, Elspeth Penny, to the talent of her impressive cast and her skilled creative and technical support.’