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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Volunteers chip in to help NUH elderly

They join therapists in boosting patients' alertness via mental games
The Straits Times - November 25, 2014
By: Priscilla Goy
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Volunteers chip in to help NUH elderly Mr Nicholas Kng guiding patient Lam Koon Cheng, 81, as he completes a wooden block activity. NUH has been engaging volunteers like Mr Kng to play such games with elderly patients, mainly those who suffer from delirium and confusion, with the aim of stimul

ONCE a week, volunteer Nicholas Kng goes to the National University Hospital (NUH) to play games with elderly patients.

But this goes beyond befriending them or cheering them up.

He gets them to think - guiding them as they fit objects of different shapes into the correct spaces in a wooden block or arrange a set of cards in ascending order.

NUH has been engaging volunteers like Mr Kng to help its elderly patients, mainly those who suffer from delirium and confusion, in activities that stimulate their minds and aid their recovery.

"The activities are simple but they require patients to do some thinking," said Mr Kng, 24. who graduated this year and is looking for a job.

Other activities include colouring, sorting cards by their suits, solving crossword puzzles and stacking up a tower of Jenga blocks, a game which trains mental skills.

Mr Kng said he has noticed that this generally leads to an improvement in the patients' mental alertness and cognitive ability.

They may be able to better remember the day of the week or their own age, for instance.

About 35 volunteers are part of this programme, which has helped more than 60 patients since it started in October last year.

Previously, only occupational therapists conducted such activities. But with more helping hands, patients now spend one or two hours every alternate day on these games, compared with less than half an hour in the past.

For Mr Kng, who has previously volunteered in other settings, his time at NUH is unlike the typical befrienders programme.

"For these confused patients, it's good for them to have something that stimulates their minds.

"If it's just chatting with them, they are likely to talk in a circular manner. They ask you the same questions, and the chit-chat may not be as beneficial."

Ms Koh Mei Jiao, a nurse clinician at NUH, said patients could also be thinking when conversing, such as when recounting their past, but the need to complete tasks in cognitive activities makes them more active mentally.

She decided to recruit volunteers to engage patients in cognitive activities after seeing the idea in practice during a study trip to New York. "Studies have shown that constant engagement with the elderly in cognitive activities can help to stimulate their minds and prevent their cognitive function from worsening," she said.

Family members are also encouraged to continue involving patients in similar activities when they are discharged and go home.

Swimming coach Aaron Lam, 49, whose father has taken part in cognitive activities, said: "It's good as they may recover faster and they're kept occupied, so they worry less about their own condition."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

Those interested to volunteer can e-mail NUH_Enquiries@nuhs.edu.sg

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