Weary Dunlop Retirement Village Special Care Unit Coordinator Navdeep Kaur says remembering the varied and dynamic pasts on behalf of residents living with Alzheimers is the ultimate privilege.
“It’s so important to learn how a resident lived their life before their diagnosis because everyone is unique and the care we give each resident needs to reflect that,” she says.
“I always tell my staff ‘we want to look after residents living with dementia the way they want to be looked after, because that’s how they’ve lived their life and coming into aged care should not change that'.”
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While she was always drawn to caring for the vulnerable, it wasn’t until Navdeep immigrated from India to New Zealand in 2014 that she discovered the fulfilment supporting people experiencing cognitive change could bring.
“I worked as an intensive care nurse back in India,” she says.
“When I started working with older men and women, I realised that this is the thing that will keep me happy, even if I’m away from my country, my grandma and my mum.”
The experience of nursing residents living with dementia differed significantly from intensive care nursing in that often residents are cared for by the same staff for a number of years.
“For people living with dementia, daily routine is very important, and we try to roster the same staff for regular shifts to help with a resident’s specific routine rather than changing their routine to suit us,” she says.
“One of the best parts of being in this kind of care is that you might get to know a resident over four or five years, and they become like family.”
However, while those caring for residents might get to know them well, it was crucial to consider that the residents being cared for were unlikely to remember their carers.
“It’s so important that when we go into a resident’s room we introduce ourselves and explain what time of day it is and that we are there to look after them,” she says.
“We must always remember that they may not remember, and we need to be really empathetic to that.”
Having good communication with a resident’s family was also important.
“A dementia diagnosis is a journey for families which can be so challenging,” she says.
“It’s really important that we have regular conversations with families not only about their loved one’s health, but also because it helps us to get to know more about our residents, what they like, what they did for work and what is important to them.”
Navdeep says good communication with the people most important to a resident ensures comprehensive individualised care plans are made for residents.
“I’ve seen significant positive changes in residents when their care is approached this way,” she says.
Individual care plans might include everything from how a resident likes their cup of tea, to how physiotherapists, dietitians and speech therapists could be utilised to enhance quality of life.
While the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s meant there were sad moments when caring for residents living with the disease, immense satisfaction came from caring.
“Because Alzheimer’s is very sadly incurable, the satisfaction comes from knowing you have cared for a resident the way they want to be looked after,” she says.
“It’s like therapy for me knowing I’m doing everything to fulfill final wishes.”