Don’t forget simple pleasures

2010-10-01 00:00

MY life is too hectic. I’ve no time for a difficult Dad .... or a demanding Mum. They are losing it anyway. I will pay to protect my lifestyle. The children do not cope with three generations in the house. And so on.

We have all heard these comments, or made them ourselves. Yet, nothing is more certain than growing older daily. We protect ourselves from this deep-seated fear by paying somebody to do the job that we cannot cope with.

Now, a national outcry has occurred over the tragic events that were recorded recently on Carte Blanche depicting shameful treatment of the elderly. It evokes fear and entrenches the reality that we ourselves are ageing and could one day be in that vulnerable position.

The fact is that the elderly folk of today need care because of the rat-race we are all caught up in.

So, how can care facilities for these folk be improved?

What can prevent such shocking actions as those graphically depicted on closed-circuit television by the recent TV programme on M-Net?

Owning a small country facility myself, the subject is very close to my heart. “What would I like if I was slowing down, confused, frail or bedridden?” I ask myself.

After almost nine years I have found that one of the most valuable members of our team is what I choose to call a “facilitator”. Her role is that of a “loving daughter, a compassionate nun, a smiling face, a thoughtful friend”. She is what we would like to be for our parents or spouses “in a perfect world”.

She tries to fill the role of who we would like to be if we had less pressure and more time in our lives. I am in no way minimising the role of the trained nursing staff, who are essential, but for the most part they are run off their feet. The facilitator gives hugs, looks for a cosy knee rug when the morning is chilly and bath time is half an hour away. She notices a missing button on a shirt and she keeps the world gentle where life has become burdensome. Her job description is varied.

An essential part of her role is to check each resident daily. Are there any unexplained bruises and if so, do follow-up reports and ask questions. Asking questions — is anyone doing that in our facilities for the vulnerable?

We talk about two sides of the coin in our little care centre — the illness side and the wellness side. Because we specialise in Alzheimer’s disease this is a major factor. The folk are not ill, often just confused, irritable, afraid or even bored. Hence, the two sides of the coin. The nursing staff focuses on illness, medication, hydration and hygiene. Just as important are the niceties of life which give us pleasure — patting a dog, sitting in the sun on a cold winter’s morning, eating a chocolate after supper.

Something else which works successfully for us is a code we have for recalcitrant residents. We put our hands in the air (did you see how quick the minders were to slap residents out of frustration on the TV footage?) and the other assistants immediately know somebody else needs to step in, as the frustration levels are building. This works, as sometimes one has to walk away. That might be because the staff have had a challenging day or the elderly person is resenting something that needs doing.

Working hours are another factor. If you face the same difficult person day in and day out, patience runs thin. The reason families ask others to take over the responsibility of their parent or spouse is because nobody can manage caring 24/7. Consequently, we only ever work three days at a time, followed by a break of one, two or three days. Burnout is a reality in the care of the elderly and the powers that be would be wise to take note of that.

The debate will rage on, rands and cents will be touted as the problem, but I remain convinced that there are many dormant nurturing skills out there looking for the opportunity to make life more pleasant for our seniors. A paid facilitator should be a part of every home for the elderly, to be their eyes and voice and protector.

• Rene Anderson runs A Place in the Country, a care centre for people with Alzheimer’s disease near Ixopo (www.aplaceinthecountry.co.za)

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