There’s not many jobs where you can turn up to work dressed as an Irish bar wench without anyone batting an eyelid.
But for Pauline Plewinski, her clients are more likely to hit her up for a pint.
The Whangarei-based Diversional Therapist trainee says the greatest skill anyone in her line of work needs is a sense of humour. That, and the ability to cater for the unexpected.
She works for Alzheimers Northland in their Whangarei day centre, which caters for around 20 – 25 people with various forms of dementia.
From the outside, the centre is your average brown brick building, but inside, the fun begins.
A small group clusters around a pool table, where elderly clients hone their physical and cognitive skills by knocking the balls around and reminding each other whether they’re on bigs or smalls. Most of time, everyone forgets and they just get on with having a good time.
Pauline says the most important part of her job is to ensure her clients have a safe space to come and have fun. This is not only therapeutic for the clients, but it gives their family and carers some time to have a break and recharge their batteries, because as Pauline says, caring for someone with dementia is a full-time job.
“People with dementia often have sleep disturbance, so they can be up all night, and they do need a lot of supervision,” Pauline says.
“So, the day centre gives carers some respite so they can have a sleep or do something nice for themselves like get their hair done or just do the grocery shopping.”
“Dementia is sadly a debilitating condition and families often remark how much it changes their loved one, that they are no longer the person they once were. But through play and laughter, it’s as though we peel back the layers and help them to be the person they used to be,” she says.
Pauline says working with older people has always been her passion, but now through hands-on-experience with her employer and the support of Industry Training Organisation (ITO), Careerforce, she is on her way to gaining the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Community Facilitation, a Level 4 NZQA-approved qualification. As the ITO for the health and wellbeing sectors, Careerforce works closely with employers across New Zealand to implement workplace training programmes, enabling staff to learn and achieve formal qualifications while at work. “Although my background is in aged care and dementia care, through studying this Diversional Therapy qualification I am gaining a much deeper understanding of how the games and activities we run every day at work helps our clients,” Pauline says.
“This is because these physical and cognitive activities help retrain their brains and shows them new ways to learn how to do old tasks. Some of these brain training games help them to remember things easier and can even help people to wake up parts of their brain affected by dementia.”
Pauline’s manager, Kevin Salmon, is very supportive of her training journey. “Investing in staff education is always a wise investment and the clients reap the benefits,” Kevin says.
Kevin helped the architect and was the interior designer behind the custom-built centre, including the colour scheme which ranges from soothing two-toned blues to a fire-engine red urinal in the men’s bathroom that clients “just can’t miss.” His rationale? Many people with dementia experience problems with their vision, causing them to misinterpret the world around them. “For example, a shadow on the carpet could be mistaken for a hole in the floor, which is why we had this centre installed with special lighting to create a naturally bright and friendly interior,” Kevin says. “And when someone has a decreased sensitivity to colour contrasts, it can become a real challenge to locate a white toilet and a white sink inside a white bathroom.”
“So, we’ve designed everything in this centre to provide a safe, familiar and fun environment for our clients, which is important.”