Having worked as the Unit Coordinator for Special Care, Anna Pochron remains firmly attached to it, even now she is Clinical Manager at Edmund Hillary Retirement Village.
“The dementia unit is joyful! People are happy and will come and talk to you and you just talk about anything because anything goes for conversation topics.
“My colleagues always know where to find me because if I’m feeling a bit stressed I go in there and have a chat with the residents. For me, it’s always a joy.”
Anna’s affinity with older people was sparked in her childhood growing up in Poland where she was brought up by her grandmother, or Babcia, who she credits for influencing the direction her career has taken.
Working in aged care for many years, Anna says dementia ‘has always been around’ and she felt particularly compelled to help these most vulnerable of people.
“These residents cannot voice their opinions and cannot advocate for themselves. I think that’s what drew me into it. That, and improving the comfort of their lives, making their lives more cheerful.”
Having good empathy is essential, she says.
“You can imagine how frightening it must feel and how uncomfortable it must be to be confused and not knowing what’s happening.”
A dementia diagnosis doesn’t just affect that person, but their family too. And Anna finds great satisfaction in helping them understand how best to help their loved one.
“It’s a journey for these families as well as for this person living with dementia.”
“The transition for their loved one is an anxious time and they are sometimes worried about whether there is going to be a battle.”
Anna says many residents come to the unit having lived on their own and she sees the positive effects of increased stimulation and improved nutrition straightaway.
“I think the social interaction factor is a massive thing.
“One lady I recall in particular, where the family was super anxious and worried because their mum had always said she would never want to live in a care environment, she basically walked right in and didn’t even look back.
“She was happy. She was drawn to the social activities and joined in everything every day. I see that a lot in residents who come in.
“This lady was also doing things on her own, tidying her things. There is no regime in Special Care, our residents can run their own day.”
This more relaxed approach is a conscious move by the team, to reduce potentially stressful situations and allow the special care unit to be a relaxed, homely environment where residents can move around freely, something the Ombudsman acknowledged during a recent review.
“There can be an expectation from families around washing and dressing. But our view is to let our residents wake up when they want to wake up, wash when they want to wash, eat breakfast when they want to eat breakfast, just like you would in your own home.”
Person-centred care is about focusing more on the needs of the residents rather than somewhere where staff tick off a list of tasks. It’s about focusing more on what people can do and making the most of their remaining abilities in a structure of support which is personalised to them.
Anna says Ryman is committed to finding ways to improve on the village environments for residents living with dementia, and helping to keep people engaged and occupied whilst enhancing their life experiences, and has commissioned the top experts in dementia research to do this.
At the top of the list is helping to reduce stigma and improve education about the disease in the wider community and ensuring that team members receive special dementia training.
“It’s really important to remember there is a person behind the dementia, and a life behind this person. They may have been an engineer in the past and if staff don’t know how to understand certain behaviours and how to help them they cannot provide proper care for them.
“What they have done in their lives carries into their illness and their behaviours. You may have the same diagnosis but everyone is different and everyone’s journey with dementia is different.”
While there are many sad and sometimes difficult moments along the way, Anna says there is definitely more happiness to be found.
“As long as people are well looked after and there is an understanding of what we’re doing, and there is kindness, then there is definitely more happiness.
“It’s about working with the resident, with the family and the staff and getting the best outcome for that person.”