Let them lead
“No la, don’t want la. My legs are weak. I just want to rest on my bed. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything.”
Sounds like a typical refusal from the elderly when you try to engage them to stay active? What will you do when faced with such rejection?
Well, if you are like our Occupational Therapists (OT), you will be patient, observe their interests and explore ways to engage them. Working with persons living with dementia requires an abundance of patience as some individuals may become less motivated or get suspicious of people around them.
Occupational Therapist Jasmine Goh remembers Mdm Yeow who always cast her watchful eyes when the team was working on other patients. “Why are you hurting them?” she would sometimes ask. Jasmine would explain that they are not. Allowing Mdm Yeow to take her time to warm up to the team and accept their interventions, was a trying but necessary journey of trust-building. “She is also very observant,” Jasmine laughs. As time passed, Mdm Yeow realised that the team is trying to help her and other patients. Trust is eventually built and they got to know each other better.
“There was once when I brought her to the activity area and she thought that the place could benefit from some tidying-up. She told me to leave her alone and just follow her clean-up instructions. I did exactly as she guided and engaged her the way she wanted in that session. It was a good engagement.” Jasmine recounts, “Engaging patients based on their interests and empower them to take the lead, and will enhance the confidence and dignity of persons living with dementia. As an OT, we have to improvise and think on the spot, leverage on circumstance opportunities to engage them. This is what makes my job interesting and meaningful.”
A systematic review in BMJ Open, a peer-reviewed open access medical journal, concluded that occupational therapy helped to improve the quality of life for both persons living with dementia and their caregivers.
“One of our goals working with people living with dementia is to help them build a routine into their daily life. Some of them may experience day-night confusion. Keeping them active can help them to sleep better and that in turn, help to minimise challenging behaviours. As a result, their caregivers can also have an easier time caring for them,” says Jasmine. “We want to create meaningful and happy memories for our patients in the dementia ward, even if they may not remember it the next day.”
Glad to see her progress, Mdm Yeow’s son said, “the staff do not just take care of patients, they genuinely care for them.”