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Nurses in diapers? It could help the elderly

Kash Cheong on 08 Mar 2015

The Straits Times


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Mr Ibnu Firdaus Nooraman is only 27, but he recently had to endure the indignity of wearing adult diapers, and having eyesight so bad it made even performing simple tasks a burden.


"It chafed, and it really was a blow to my self-esteem," said the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) staff nurse.


Luckily for him, the ordeal lasted only a few minutes - then the diapers and headache-inducing glasses came off.


Mr Ibnu is among some 30 nurses at the hospital who have experienced in a small way what their elderly, infirm patients live with. This is part of a course to help them monitor and care for older folk, particularly those who may not be able to speak for themselves.


At TTSH, more than one in two patients are aged 65 and above. It has a higher proportion of elderly patients than most hospitals here.


Apart from helping the nurses understand the frustration that illness and immobility brings, the course also teaches them to be alert to symptoms which may not seem typical.


Advanced practice nurse Tan Hongyun, 34, said: "How an old person's body reacts to falls or infections differs from a normal adult, so he needs specialised care."


When a patient with mild dementia contracts pneumonia, for instance, fever - typical of the illness in a younger person - may not show up initially.


Instead, he could seem more confused - losing his bearings or walking around aimlessly, because his "weakest link" - in this case the brain, could be affected first, explained Ms Tan.


Noting the different symptoms, nurses can better monitor their elderly charges for the common but potentially serious afflictions they face, such as pneumonia, constipation or urinary retention.


The 50-hour course, which runs over eight months, features topics such as fall prevention, nutrition and medicine safety for the elderly.TTSH aims to extend it to all nurses.


Another participant, Ms Liu Yunxia, 35, said: "It reminded me that you need to keep a closer eye on them as they may be more frail and prone to complications."


The nurses will be certified geriatric resource nurses after their training. Although it is not an advanced diploma for specialised nursing, the certification is based on a curriculum adapted from New York University and is widely recognisedin the US.


Such courses are likely to expand, given that the number of people aged 65 and above here is set to double to 900,000 by 2030.


Said Ms Wong Luan Wah, director of the School of Health Sciences at Nanyang Polytechnic: "Singapore's ageing population is a given - care must keep up."


At her polytechnic, the advanced diploma in nursing (gerontology) is also becoming more popular. It now admits 80 students a year, double the number compared to a decade ago, and even its general nursing course has become more elderly-focused.


Other hospitals like Singapore General Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and the National University Hospital are also holding courses to help their staff care for the elderly better.


Nurses doing the TTSH course said it made them empathise more with the elderly, and inspired them to take even better care of them.


Mr Ibnu said that even mundane things, like moving a patient's limbs to stop the muscles from wasting away, or helping him to the toilet to wean him off diapers, have added meaning.


"If we can take better care of our pioneers, we should," he said.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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