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“We are here, so let us know if you need help”

Karen Talbot’s passion for nursing started as early as five years old. From the start of her career in Orthopaedics, she developed an affinity with the elder generation, and she loved listening to their rich life stories. After gaining extensive experience in district nursing and palliative care in the UK and NZ, she started her journey in clinical operations leadership that took her to Real Living. She’s still guided by the same principles: teamwork, compassionate quality care and the promotion of active ageing.


- Real Living strives to promote the physical and mental health of the residents. How can this be achieved during challenging times like the one we’re living?

    Karen Talbot: Mental Health is a crucial aspect of day to day living for both residents and staff. At times of stress or change, this can play out in different ways... for our residents, continued routine is really important to help keep them well from the perspective of not adding undue stress, due to a situation that is out of the norm.

    Karen Talbot talks to Remuera Gardens manager Karen Cottle and other staff members during a visit to the village this month.

    - What are the practical things that you’re doing to look after the residents’ mental health?

      KT: We’re helping the residents stay connected to their family and friends. Likewise, we make sure they keep busy and nurture their favourite activities and topics of interest. Every village does wellbeing calls to the residents, a connection tool that has proved vital during the lockdown. We need to engage with the residents as individuals. It’s easy to underestimate how mental health plays such an important role in a person’s overall wellbeing. The two are connected, the same way that gut health is connected to everything: nourishing food helps our mind stay healthy.

      As Real Living's clinical manager, Karen enjoys talking to the residents to learn their needs and goals.

      - We’re entering our sixth week of lockdown. Do you have any message for the residents who are disheartened by the extension of the lockdown?

      KT: Stay strong and positive and connected to your loved ones on the phone or through other methods. We will get through this together. We are here, so do let us know if we can help in any way.

      - Let’s leave aside the lockdown for a moment. In general terms, how does Real Living promote mental wellbeing among the residents?

      KT: We have a broad activities programme, which is developed to target various aspects of wellbeing, including their mental health. If we ‘stretch and prompt’ the brain, it is amazing what we see…In the care facility, our teams do things like scrabble, quizzes, poetry writing or ‘memory re-call’, this will often then lead to the residents reflecting and talking about their past. This can be really interesting and have an additional benefit for the care team to also gain a deeper understanding of the person that they are caring for. Physical exercise is also essential to our overall wellbeing, including mental health. Residents living in the village have regular exercise sessions and other activities that they arrange amongst themselves.

      During the lockdown, the staff are helping the residents to keep fit with social distanced exercise lessons.

      - According to research, living in retirement villages combats isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

      KT: In general terms, I think living in a retirement village enables and facilitates connection with others. We have a great community spirit with lots going on for those who relish in the wider community spirit. Of course some residents prefer to keep to themselves, but they still have the back up of support when needed.

      -Do you personally see the benefits in people when they move to a retirement village?

      KT: Absolutely. For some it takes a little longer than others, but in the main I see huge benefits. To be honest, for many Residents it is not the bigger things that count, but the little aspects of village life: being able to stop and talk to someone, see a smiley face, know that there is always someone that you can contact if you need to etc. The staff understands the need to genuinely connect with the residents -this helps some to feel welcomed to their new community and we see them flourish in their new surroundings.

      Real Living’s staff and residents can develop strong bonds. Pakuranga Park care facility manager Sant Kumari is working in the kitchen with the assistance of one of the village’s residents, Malcolm.

      This year, Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme isTake time to kōrero/mā te kōrero, ka ora - a little chat can go a long way. The Mental Health Foundation has chosen this theme because the little, everyday conversations we have are surprisingly important, and they make a big difference to our mental health. Karen Talbot reminds the residents that they’re not alone, and if they need to talk to someone rather than their families or the staff, there are plenty of resources available.

      - The best first point of contact is to call your GP

      - Age Concern - 0800 65 2 105

      - The NZ Mental Health Foundation has free helplines 24/7

      - Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

      -More resources:

      https://www.mhaw.nz/support/

      https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-health-advice-public/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-resources#need-to-talk

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