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The Persevering Guardian for the Elderly - Andrew Lau
The Persevering Guardian for the Elderly - Andrew Lau
Andrew Lau
Andrew Lau
Registered Social Worker and Training Consultant, Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing

Andrew has personal knowledge of dementia – both his great-grandmother and his grandmother suffered from the debilitating disease. Now 42, Andrew knows how inadequate social support used to be for the family of dementia patients, and how their helplessness could turn into despair. This is why he has been working tirelessly over the past decade to research the cause of and treatments for dementia, and to arouse social concern for elderly services.

Andrew was never a straight-A student as a child, and he started working as soon as he finished secondary school. He did evangelical work as a programme officer at church; cared for the elderly as a healthcare assistant at an elderly home; and finally joined the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing (JCCPA). At JCCPA, he began with caring and organising activities for patients with early to mid-stage dementia, and he soon received compliments for being earnest and dedicated to his work. In just a year, his superior encouraged Andrew to study social work part-time with hopes he would become a social worker one day.

Eleven years soon passed and now Andrew is an experienced, licensed social worker. He is a training consultant at JCCPA, where he is actively involved in training and research. Through sharing his extensive experience, he seeks to promote social understanding of dementia.

Andrew is actively involved in training and research. Through sharing his extensive experience, he seeks to promote social understanding of dementia.
Mutual support - the only way to overcome hurdles

Andrew lived with his great-grandmother as a child, and has vivid memories of being baffled by how his family kept the fridge chained up. He did not know his great-grandma had dementia and “would eat raw meat and soil, which was why our family had to take special care of her”. Later, Andrew understood that his grand-grandma suffered cognitive degradation and was unable to distinguish the taste of raw meat and soil.

After his great-grandma passed away, his grandma also fell victim to dementia. Andrew’s mother, the primary caregiver, had to give up work to care for her. At the time, knowledge of dementia was lacking and specialised organisational or community support were unavailable, leaving her mother with no one to talk to. Knowing how tough it was for his mother, Andrew sometimes helped out by visiting his grandma at the elderly home, where he witnessed his grandma’s condition deteriorate. She would forget who he was and only call him by nicknames, but he took it positively as he understood dementia patients could also find happiness if their family was there to accompany them in this last stage of their lives.

Andrew believes that optimism and the ability to treasure the present is already a gift in itself.
Being empathetic and treating the elderly as buddies

With his past experience, Andrew is naturally inclined to empathise with patients’ families. Whenever he designs activities for the elderly, for example, he goes one step further to provide support for their families. In 2012, Andrew and the JCCPA team set up the Care Giver Support Group to allow family members to share the skills of caring for dementia patients and knowledge of the illness. Families are also able to support and encourage each other, and to share their ups and downs.

“Each elderly person is unique.” During his over decade-long service at JCCPA, Andrew has come across many memorable cases. He recalls his experience of getting along with an elderly resident who had severe behavioural and cognitive issues from dementia. “This old uncle had frequent continence problems and would throw tantrums, as he was unaware of the messes he had made.” This resident was also insecure and only trusted those he knew well, which was why Andrew did the unusual – for a period of 9 months, he slept over at JCCPA one night every week to spend time with this resident. Even his wife complained to him about his obsession with work, but by persevering in his commitment to elderly care, Andrew gradually gained the understanding and support of those around him.

Describing himself as a “slob” as a child, Andrew had little interest in studies and never thought he could participate in the editorial efforts of publishing activities and in researching books for JCCPA. He now not only does that, but also organises seminars at different districts to contribute his efforts toward elderly service.

Looking ahead, Andrew hopes to let more people know about JCCPA and to spread the spirit of human-based service.
Andrew believes the key to getting along with the elderly is to have the correct mind-set – which sometimes can be like “dating”, requiring the unconditional giving of “love, support and encouragement”.

Now approaching his 12th year in social service, Andrew hopes more in society will learn about JCCPA and the spirit of human-based service while he continues to conduct research into better caregiving techniques. “Forget the past, and focus on getting to your goal ahead!” Nothing is impossible if one keeps forging ahead toward a goal. Andrew believes that optimism and the ability to treasure the present is already a gift in itself.

7 tips for new caregivers of dementia patients
1 Use social resources around you Utilise community resources; learn to become a caregiver and join a caregiver support group. Arrange for domestic helpers to participate in caregiving programmes for dementia patients.
2 Select carefully your caregiving organisation Choose a caregiving organisation according to the patient’s needs for suitable training activities as his/her disease progresses.
3 Plan for the long-term Give patients suitable care while minimising or avoiding family disharmony arising from differing caregiving views.
4 Maintain a safe household A suitable living environment can allow dementia patients to continue to safely and happily maintain their original household living style, thus minimising the risk of accidents.
5 Communicate with these simple tricks Be patient and calm while communicating; maintain sufficient eye contact with the patient and avoid criticising him/her and pointing out his/her mistakes.
6 Care for yourself Arrange regular breaks for yourself; talk to family and friends, and seek help from them or service organisations when needed.
7 Know when it is time for change Adjust your own mind-set as the disease progresses. The more you know about dementia, the less stressed you will be.

 

The Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing
Address: 27 A Kung Kok Street, Shatin, N.T.
Tel: 2636 6323
Fax: 2636 0323
Email: info@jccpa.org.hk
Website: http://www.jccpahk.com/en/home/index.php

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