Just one generation ago, caring for your elderly family members at home went without saying. All their needs would be seen to by their children, often with the help of domestic staff, and they would live out their years in a close nuclear family environment with only a few gentle activities to break up the [...]


‘Put yourself in the shoes of the elderly’

With close to 30 years of experience in giving kindness and care, nursing expert Fiona Eccles shares valuable advice on taking care of senior citizens

Fiona Eccles

Just one generation ago, caring for your elderly family members at home went without saying. All their needs would be seen to by their children, often with the help of domestic staff, and they would live out their years in a close nuclear family environment with only a few gentle activities to break up the day.

But in this fast-paced world, time is a rare commodity, and people always seem busy in their own lives. As a result, the elders in our lives may not get the time and love they deserve. Though this does not arise from an intentional lack of respect, our elderly family members nevertheless get left at home without much thought due to our hectic lifestyles.

According to Director of Nursing at English Nursing Care Services in Sri Lanka,  Fiona Eccles, it’s always advisable to put yourself in their shoes. Thinking about how you might feel in their place, try to understand what they’re going through, and make sure they are the focus.

With close to 30 years of experience as a registered nurse, striving to give any sort of care with kindness and compassion has always been Ms Eccles’ key focus. She believes that one of the main roles of a nurse is health protection and prevention. “Giving good health education and enabling people to stay well and make healthy choices is just as important for a nurse as looking after them when they become unwell,” she tells us over an online interview.

Trained at St. George’s, a leading London hospital, she then qualified as a midwife and served in the British Army Nursing Corps where she worked in military hospitals both at home and abroad.

However, as her children got older, she decided to go into the care of the elderly. “When you’re a bit older, you have a little bit more patience, more understanding, and I felt I could give the time and really give something worthwhile,” she says. As soon as she started to work in care homes for the elderly, she loved it and eventually rose towards management.

It was during her days in the Nursing Corps that she met Richard Gould, Managing Director of English Nursing Sri Lanka. When it was established in 2017, she joined as Director of Nursing where she is responsible for overseeing staff, developing nursing policies following the latest research based best practices, and more. They aim to support people through community nursing services.

When it comes to elders’ care, Ms Eccles believes that there is a balance to be struck between care homes and care at home – and it all depends on what the problems are. For elders to live normal and active lives, seeking professional advice based on their condition will enable them to be cared for at home. Whether it is advice from a nutritionist about eating well, professional training for domestic help to care for the elderly, or help from a physiotherapist on walking aids or best practice when getting up from beds and chairs – maximising their independence is key.

She also recommends looking into home adaptations, such as installing grab rails and handles in the bathroom and such if someone has poor mobility, or re-arranging the living area to better suit their abilities. “Elders are at a higher risk of falls. They lose muscle mass and stability, which happens naturally with age,” she explains, adding that these adaptations are often simple things that will enable elderly people to remain at home.

However, those needing complex care, which requires the constant presence of skilled professionals might be an instance for going into a care home. This is more so for people suffering from advanced dementia, since it may be difficult to maintain their safety at home.

In such cases, it is paramount to get a proper diagnosis in order to get the right kind of support. “Dementia affects people in incredibly different ways, depending on what the cause is. There’s not just one answer to the whole dilemma,” Ms Eccles explains. Even then, there are many options like the Lanka Alzheimer’s Foundation day centre that offer valuable aid, and help people stay independent.

For people with early stages of dementia, preserving a sense of normalcy is encouraged. Staying active both physically and mentally through exercise, reading, doing puzzles, etc. helps maintain cognitive awareness. Above all, however, treating them with sensitivity and understanding is key, as forgetting words and names could be upsetting and frustrating to that person.

“The most important thing is that either the at-home care or care delivered in a care home is delivered kindly and compassionately, by staff who are well-trained and motivated,” she says.

With the advancement of medical intervention, people are not only living longer but are also expecting to continue their active lifestyles. With recovery from serious cardiac issues and strokes on an upward trend, care has shifted more towards rehabilitation, post-op care and getting people adaptations so they get better and carry on as normal a life as possible.

As Ms Eccles points out, positive body images and messages that encourage elders to continue living as they did before are unfortunately rare, as our culture is oriented towards youth. Yet positive representation in media and health campaigns go a long way in keeping elders motivated physically and mentally.

“Keeping connected is important, whether it’s through a call to their family and friends. They are more likely to stay active than if they are isolated,” says Ms Eccles. “It’s the same throughout the world that loneliness is debilitating in a physical way, because people become less motivated to stay active.”

In this vein, she stresses how important it is to make sure the elderly people in your life feel valued and included. Older people, particularly those who were professionals, often suffer a loss of self-esteem because they may feel as if their opinions are not valued or respected by society anymore. “Don’t patronise them and talk to them as if they’re in a reduced position, treat them with respect and dignity. Asking their opinions shows you still value their judgement,” she says.

Getting older and having health issues also means one has to plan ahead for what might happen. Initiating a discussion with your elders about what sort of care they would want are decisions that shouldn’t be left until there is a crisis, especially when it comes to extreme medical interventions like life support, resuscitation etc.

“Not everyone wants to talk about it, but others feel happier having written down what they want or don’t want,” Ms Eccles explains. Thinking ahead about how you might manage if the person becomes unwell, while including them in decisions that will affect them in later years, will afford everyone involved the peace of mind that they are doing what is best.

After all, our elders are the pillars of society and protecting them, reciprocating their love and respecting their wishes is important. And at the end of the day, there will be a point in one’s life where one would certainly want the same.



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