The Salvation Army URL has changed to salvationarmy.org.auFind out more
24 September 2022
Taking the residents for walks is part of the daily routine for Penny Palmer, lifestyle coordinator at the Salvos Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre.
Penny Palmer is a diversional therapist and lifestyle coordinator at The Salvation Army’s Riverview Gardens Aged Care Centre near Brisbane. Below, Penny talks about her work looking after senior Australians, including those living with dementia. As Dementia Action Week approaches (19-25 September), Penny emphasises the importance of supporting, respecting and celebrating those living with this condition and those who care for them.
Salvos Magazine: Can you give us an overview of your role?
Penny Palmer: I oversee all the activities for the residents. The centre is quite large, currently accommodating 157 residents. We have three different areas – the hostel, the nursing home, and Fairhaven, the secure dementia or memory support wing. People living with dementia live across all sections, depending on what they need to be safe and what they can do for themselves. Typically, most of our residents in the early-mid stages of dementia are in our hostel and nursing home.
Similarly, there are also residents in Fairhaven at different stages of dementia – again, based on safety and need. There are many different forms of dementia; it’s not just memory loss.
You have been working at Riverview for 22 years. What motivates you to continue in this work?
I simply love what I do. I love being with the residents and working with the fantastic staff. I want to work on how we can support our residents to have a good day and a good life, which is what they need. And to give them the dignity and respect they deserve. I am passionate about my job, and I love being able to give something back to the residents.
What would you like people to know about people living with dementia?
See the person and not their disease. I want to make sure our residents, and their family and friends, see each person living with dementia as a person just like you and me – not someone who is defined by their dementia. Nobody should be labelled by their condition – whatever that is.
This is a hard thing for society to change, but it’s such a tragedy for people who have lived rich and wonderful lives to be now known as a person with dementia.
It’s important that families see their loved ones as still being their mum, dad, auntie or uncle, people who have lived their lives and were perhaps engineers or parents who served their communities, loved their gardens, raised children, and so much more.
As staff, we, too, want to get to know each person – what they did in their lives, their family histories, their hobbies, likes and dislikes.
What is a typical day like for you?
I usually come to work when the residents are having breakfast, so I do my rounds, meet and greet everyone and let them know what is happening for the day.
Our team – staff and volunteers – then take those who are part of our walking group on a stroll around our lovely grounds and facilities. We might then get ready for morning tea or sit and chat. Depending on the day, we roll into our activity after a cuppa. Activities could include a concert, craft, cooking or singalongs.
After lunch, we have a quiet time – we call it ‘twilight time’ – to wind down from the morning. Many of the residents tire quickly by afternoon, or some behaviours start to change. It’s a settling time for them. We find quieter activities for those who don’t rest.
After afternoon tea, it’s a slower-paced and more relaxing activity. This could include a pamper time, adult colouring, movies, reminiscing time, discussions or trivia. It’s not over-stimulating. We find this works well.
Once a week, our chaplain comes and gives a short devotion. Those who can’t attend church on Sundays especially appreciate this.
What are some of the challenges of your work?
Every day can be different, as every person is different. One day a resident could be happy and want to give you a hug, but within a few minutes, their behaviour drastically changes. Someone might have upset them by sitting in ‘their’ seat or making a sudden noise. This can be challenging.
The residents are all individuals in their own ways, and we must adapt to that. We can’t take anything they say or do to heart. We can’t get frustrated or upset – they don’t realise they are saying or doing certain things or repeating the same things over and over.
And, of course, there are people without dementia who can be abrupt, rude and difficult too. But it is what it is.
What are some of the rewards?
The rewards definitely outweigh the challenges. I love it when our residents are just so happy to be with us – they want to go for walks with us, hold our hands, talk to us. They brighten up my day as much as I hope I brighten theirs.
It’s also rewarding to work with and help family and friends of residents who are seeing certain behaviours for the first time and can be extremely daunted or overwhelmed by them.
Working with the fantastic lifestyle team is so rewarding, and it really does take a team to care for people with dementia. Everyone is involved, from the gardeners, cleaners and cooks to the laundry staff, medical team and maintenance crew. It’s important for residents to connect with people from all walks of life.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
We can’t hold the bigger events we used to, as we are restricted to numbers and distancing. It was very difficult to explain that to the residents.
We had to do a lot more person-centred activities as many residents couldn’t come out of their rooms. It was a huge adjustment to our daily planning.
The staff, especially those in our dementia wing, are amazing and adapted well. Everyone did what they could, so residents still got to go out and do things in small groups.
On a positive note, we had Zoom meetings with families so they could keep in touch with their loved ones. Those who could seldom visit for other reasons were able to connect more frequently. This continues today.
How do you see your work achieving the mission of the Salvos to transform lives?
As a Christian, it’s part of me to show compassion towards other people. I try to do something nice and not expect anything in return. I hope I give joy to people through the day – not just residents but family and staff. I hope they see me as a role model, someone they can talk to if they’re not sure of something or feel down.
I hope I help people, make them laugh, and give appropriate hugs if people are feeling sad. I want residents and staff to have an enjoyable day. I try my best every day to achieve that.
For more information, training opportunities and resources, go to dementia.org.au