Monday, February 25, 2019

Home care staff brings play and companionship to seniors with self-developed Dementia Tool Kit


Caregiving isn’t a job but a passion for Saffiahtol Binti Osman – a home care staff at NTUC Health. Inspired by her late grandfather to join the Community Care sector, she goes beyond caring for the medical needs of her clients to form meaningful relationships with them. Saffiahtol gives us an insight into what she does and reveals a tool kit developed by her team for clients with dementia.

As a home care provider, what are your job duties?

As a Care Coordinator, I act as the central liaison between clients and care staff, assist clients with their application for home personal care services and conduct home visits together with our Care Associates.

What was your first home visit like?

I was excited and apprehensive. I had undergone a one-month training before my first home visit and was eager to put what I had learnt into practice. At the same time, I was worried that I would not meet the client’s expectations. Thankfully, my team lead was there with me to oversee the process and offer me guidance.

My first home visit was to Madam Farizah’s* home. Mdm Farizah has dementia and limited mobility due to a stroke in the past. Although she has a domestic worker, her children wanted someone to keep her company and engage her in simple mental activities while they are away at work. Mdm Farizah also requires assistance in showering and grooming. We struggled during the first visit as it was challenging to transfer Mdm Farizah from the bed to the wheelchair and inside the shower as well.

The first visit may not have gone well, but it did not get me down. It took around a month for me to build trust and rapport with Mdm Farizah. Eventually, her domestic worker shared with me that Mdm Farizah would always ask her if I would be coming that day or what time I would be there. Thinking back, it is amazing to see how far we have come.

How did your experiences with your late grandfather, who had dementia, help you in caring for seniors with dementia?

My late grandfather had dementia, and my grandmother, who used to be a nurse, taught me basic nursing skills to help care for him. I assisted with transferring him around, changing of diapers and sorting of medication.

My grandfather passed away when I was 16 and his passing inspired me to give back to the community. I attended a two-year course in Community Care and Social Services at the Institute of Technical Education. I also had the opportunity to intern at the dementia ward of a hospital. That further deepened my knowledge of caring for patients with dementia.

3. Why did you choose to be a home care provider, instead of working at a hospital or a nursing home?

As a home care staff, I have the privilege of assessing my clients’ living arrangements. This gives me the chance to plan and coordinate their care in an all-rounded approach. If the clients’ living arrangements are not ideal, we can connect them with relevant government agencies to improve their living conditions.

For instance, we help create a safer environment for elderly clients by applying for enhancements such as installing of grab bars,  ramps or non-slip mats. For seniors who live alone, we may link them up with befriending services in the community so that they can have companionship and additional support. These are services that I may not be able to do in a hospital or nursing home setting.

More importantly, I get to form meaningful relationships with my clients in a way that I may not get a chance to in an institutionalised setting. I believe in caring for my clients beyond their medical needs and also provide emotional and psychosocial support. In a one-to-one setting, my clients would often share their life stories and experiences like where they grew up, how they met their other half, and more. Seeing their smiles after spending time with them makes my work worthwhile.

4. Can you share your biggest challenge(s) so far?

It was challenging to juggle both work and studies. I attended evening classes after work, and there was a period where I had to put in more hours at night for my final year project. It was a stressful time, but I am thankful to have supportive colleagues who spurred me on.

5. What is the most fulfilling moment in your work so far?

Mr. Tan* was at an advanced stage of cancer when I met him. He passed away six months later. During home visits with him, Mr. Tan would chat about everything under the sun. We chatted like old friends do. He was glad that he did not have to spend the last stage of his life alone.

Mr. Tan once told me, “There is still a long way to go for you - I am just one out of the many lives that you will make an impact on".

His quote left a deep impression. Knowing that I was able to make a difference in the lives of others reaffirmed my decision to stay in the Community Care sector. I am glad I was able to offer some comfort during Mr. Tan’s last stage of life.

6. We heard that you developed a Dementia Tool Kit! How does it work? What inspired you to come up with it?

I worked with five other team members to launch the Dementia Tool Kit in June 2018. Inside the kit is an informational booklet on dementia for the caregivers and curated games that stimulate the five senses of our clients. When we first started, we had six games, which included a puzzle, colouring book, bingo and origami. We have now expanded our games collection at our clients’ requests.

Some of the games included in the Dementia Tool Kit.

Our care staff would bring along the Dementia Tool kit on home visits, and clients get to pick a game of their choice. Our care staff would guide them in completing the chosen game or activity. The games have gained traction with our clients. Some would rotate the games, but others would stick to the same game every visit. We have a client who would always choose the colouring activity because the different colours make her happy. Clients who were not receptive to any activities initially have also warmed up to the games.

Saffiahtol (left) and fellow care staff guiding a client with her game of choice in the Dementia Tool Kit.

I was inspired to create this Dementia Tool Kit because I wanted to offer clients a choice in what they wish to do. I also wanted to create an encouraging environment for them to make their own decisions. I observed that when we provide clients with the opportunity to pursue activities that they are interested in, we were able to engage with them in a more meaningful way, and this may help with their condition.

We hope to add more games to our Dementia Tool Kit and continue to bring joy to our clients!

*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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