THERE are many jobs that take special people to handle. And providing care in a nursing home or a hospice is one of them.
The job requires patience, perseverance, diligence, and emotional quotient (EQ) savvy.
To be a caregiver, one needs a measure of self-awareness, human empathy, and the ability to interact sensitively with others.
Many old folks are mentally fragile and self-conscious, and it takes people with basic human psychology to deal with them.
Caregivers do more than just caring. They also teach the elderly to care for themselves – and this isn’t always easy.
If residents at rest homes have complex health problems, they might need a lot of hands-on care, leaving less time for teaching. If the residents are in pain, they may find it hard to absorb newly-communicated information – which could be further confounded by language barriers.
Special skills are needed to help the residents manage their situations. Only the best caregivers or nurses can do this very demanding job successfully.
According to Christie Candy, who has been working at Home of Peace, a non-profit organisation, as assistant medical officer for over two and a half years, looking after the elderly in an old folks’ home is no different from looking after patients in a hospital.
Apart from a job at a nursing care residence, the 29-year-old has also worked as a personal assistant medical officer to a prominent family as well as a clinical instructor of a college.
To her, working in Home of Peace is a whole new experience since she is dealing specifically with the elderly.
“One of the most challenging tasks is caring for residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia. They have fleeting memories, confusion, and anxieties, and their caregivers have to spend a lot of energy and time helping them to put the broken pieces back together.
“My main duty is to oversee the caregivers, giving them a work schedule – and specific instructions, when required. I keep the residents’ medical records, check their vital signs such as temperature, weight, and blood pressure, and monitor their medication.
“I also escort the residents to and from clinics or the Sarawak General Hospital. My other duties include preparing the duty roster for the caregivers under my charge. Although I work office hours, I’m on call 24 hours,” she told thesundaypost.
Pressure and stress
If they feel pressured or stressed in their job, the caregivers will consult Christie. She, in turn, will advise and motivate them.
“It’s normal for caregivers to feel stressed, especially when dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even though they are trained, it’s still normal for them to feel the pressure of handling erratic behaviour.”
Asked to give an example on Alzheimer’s or dementia-related behaviour, she said it was very common for the afflicted to forget they had just bathed, so they would repeatedly ask to be bathed.
“Sometimes if we have extra free time, we would do what they asked just to make them happy. But after a while, they would forget again and yell at us for not giving them a bath.”
Christie said her job has made her more empathetic towards people’s problems, especially those of the elderly. It has also taught her to manage the elderly in her own home – by applying her skills and resilience in looking after her grandparents.
Her family is very supportive of her career and she is happy to have more family time now than when she was a clinical instructor. Since the job involved a lot of travelling, she had to miss out on many family functions.
“To be honest, I actually feel good working with old people. I never forget one day I too will be old myself. It’s not all doom and gloom looking after the elderly. It holds many sweet memories for me. Some of the old timers are fun to be with. They love to mingle and are friendly and chatty, and, yes, some love to play games like kids,” she said.
According to Christie, many of the old folks are still very clear-headed and they certainly know how to show their gratitude and appreciation by never failing to say ‘thank you’ to their caring minders. One particular resident makes it a point to thank the staff after every meal.
Overall, she said she had more pleasant than bitter memories.
“Of course, I don’t take it to her heart if I get scolded by some residents who feel I’m not doing what they expect. They often expect immediate attention – even for little things – while the staff may be attending to the other residents.”
The daily routine includes helping the residents to bathe, dress them, and feed those no longer able to eat by themselves.
“When we spend so much time taking care of them, we eventually develop a close bond and become like family.
“For instance, when a resident died recently, we all felt very emotional – as though a family member had passed on,” she said.
Asked why the caregivers were mostly young people, Christie said the job required physical strength and fitness as some of the residents, especially the older ones, had to be helped out of a chair or bed, and carried to the bathroom or dining hall.
Another advantage, she added, was that young people were more alert and they also learned very fast.
Home of Peace now has 21 staff, of whom, nine are caregivers. There are three shifts in a day – 7am to 2pm, 2pm to 9pm, and 9pm to 7am.
The residents are generally in good health although some have ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, elephantiasis, heart problems, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.
The oldest resident is 97 and quite independent for her age, moving around with a walking stick. The youngest is 54.
Most of the old folks at the home are from destitute backgrounds, usually living alone with no family care.
Christie said the residents are encouraged to lead an active life and try to be as independent as possible adding, “This is for their own good – it keeps them healthy, mobile, and happy.”
From Monday to Thursday, there are sessions for tai chi – considered an ideal exercise for senior citizens – in addition to physiotherapy to maintain body flexibility.
To help the residents lead a full life, activities such karaoke, movie days, recreational and card games are frequently arranged. The residents also play board games, do crossword puzzles, or handicrafts or art to maintain their mental alertness.
All these activities help make their days bright and cheery, and keep boredom at bay.
Christie said the caregivers would sometimes sit with the residents in the backyard or on the front porch for a couple of hours to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, noting that such things could do wonders to the residents’ outlook and well-being.
She also noticed a general misconception that the elderly who ended up in old folks’ homes were abandoned by their children.
While not denying this does exist, she pointed out that in many cases Home of Peace residents are singletons.
She reckoned some could have been married but had no children, or their spouses, for one reason or another, were no longer with them or it could be both spouses could not take care of one another anymore.
No compromise on quality
Although Home of Peace is a charity, it’s important to treat the staff as professionals and compensate them well, said Josh John, a member of the home’s board of directors.
This is to ensure the quality of service is not compromised.
On the criteria for admission, he said Home of Peace is for the elderly poor and free of charge.
“We depend on public donations and sponsorships. For admission, the candidates must be able-bodied and not suffering from any serious health problems.
“The admission panel will interview the applicants and vet their eligibility. This is because Home of Peace is a residential care home for the elderly – not a nursing home. The difference is that a nursing home needs to have a medical staff and a resident doctor.”
Home of Peace, situated at Jalan Landeh, a stone’s throw from Kota Padawan, is owned by the Catholic Welfare Services Council Sarawak and managed in partnership with the Sisters of St Francis Sarawak.
Sister Ursula Lian is the matron, assisted by Sister Eunice Sulong.
The project is part of the council’s mission to extend love and care to the aged poor.
The home welcomes residents irrespective of race, religion, or gender. It’s built on the generous donations and sponsorships from the public as well as Catholic parishioners.
The home envisions to be an outreach of the church in providing a home for the aged, particularly those who are poor and have no one to care for them.
It aims to provide an environment of faith and communal support in a conducive caring ambiance to bring peace and love for the residents in their golden years.
In connection with this vision, Home of Peace hopes to educate society on the value of the elderly and counter the thinking which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.
Moreover, it intends to propagate a faith that unravels the mystery of death, brings serenity to old age, enhances the capacity of the elderly to enjoy life and ensures them the provision of care.
Presently, the facilities include an activity hall, a big dining hall and a kitchen, a chapel, and residential quarters. All meals are prepared by the kitchen.
“The success of a good home is not just about its physical appearance or facilities but more importantly, the quality of care provided and this includes care with love and compassion,” Josh said.
No two caregivers have the same day. It depends on their role, the needs of the persons they are looking after and the challenges they may face each day.
This article is just a glimpse into the world of caretakers but they will tell you there is no “typical day”.
To the caretakers you know, make sure to thank them for their hard work and offer them a hand. If you are a care taker yourself, thank you for the amazing work you are doing from morning to night.