This post is a Profile/Feature article which I wrote about Adele Monaco* last semester. Ms. Monaco works with patients who suffer from dementia.
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
A day in the life of an Aged-Care Worker
As aged-care worker Adele Monaco sits at the beginning of the interview, her excitable Staffy, Pooch flops down next to her, making that little snuffling noise the breed is known for. Looking adoringly down at her boy Ms. Monaco explains that it was her grandfather’s Alzheimer’s that made her want to work in the industry.
“I didn’t think that his care was appropriate at the time, and there were no programs back then” Monaco says as she scratches behind Pooch’s ear, “all these programs that they have these days they make a big difference”.
Overall, Monaco is happy with her career and pleased that she can make a difference in people’s lives, no matter how big or small. Outside of work she likes to unwind by browsing eBay and would “like to do a bit of reading but never seem[s] to get the chance”. She loves collecting handbags (to the point where her friends call her ‘bag lady’) and fishing and especially loves catching up with her friends and family. Despite the biggest fish she’s ever caught being “not big, the big one must’ve got away” and the many things which she has to deal with, Monaco seems content with her life.
And why wouldn’t she be? After only ten months in the aged-care industry Monaco has earned herself a place on LinkedIn’s list of the top 25 carers in the Ballarat area. She loves interacting with the residents and describes work at her facility Clarksville as “good, busy, busy, but rewarding, interesting. Every day is different.”
Monaco feels that there are certain values which are intrinsic to the field. “You need to have empathy, you need to be patient, and you need to understand their needs at all times.”
And to understand these needs, Monaco believes it is necessary to cater to each individual. She is a strong believer that patients should be provided with quality one-on-one care.
“Everyone’s different, everyone has different levels of care, everyone has different needs, everyone has different opinions.”
This is particularly important in Monaco’s case as she largely works with dementia patients who have very specific needs.
“People with dementia take a lot of understanding, a lot more patience then you would generally have for the general public, and in general they need a lot more care.”
According to Monaco, there are many things about dementia that need to be learned on the job. “You can’t actually be taught. You have to actually experience it before you totally understand it.”
Monaco speaks fondly of her job and residents. “Seeing them smile, laughing with them, making them laugh, dancing stupid dances for them. And they laugh. They absolutely go into hysterics and it’s really cute, a couple of them will get up and dance with you. Yeah, it’s just awesome, really good…
… That’s what’s rewarding, what you get back from them, the smiles and the laughter, the cuddles or you know”.
Monaco is full of tales which make her smile as she recounts them.
“There was one gentleman that actually told me that I was his wife, he was convinced one day that I was his wife and when I said ‘no I’m not your wife’ he turned around and said ‘well we better get married then’”.
It’s not all fun and games though. While Monaco loves the residents and enjoys her work immensely there are still tough parts to her job. On an average seven-and-a-half hour shift she gets a half-hour lunch break and spends the rest of her time helping residents with their basic needs, such as meals and hygiene as well as organising and running programs for them.
“Hygiene can be quite intense, you could have not much to do but they could be very dependent, or really independent, so it just varies … the majority of the time we do music programs with them, there’s quite a lot of things that we do” Monaco says. “It’s quite a heavy shift too. It can be physically demanding as well as mentally demanding, and emotionally taxing”.
For Monaco, dealing with death is an inevitable, but sad, part of the job. As if sensing that what is coming will affect Monaco deeply, Pooch snuggles closer into her side as she begins to speak.
“The hardest part is being with a resident when they pass away, and that happened two weeks ago. We were actually in the room when he went. There was no pain or that involved, and he slipped away very peacefully. His daughter was in there. It wasn’t a good experience by any means, but it was educational. You just do your job, you be professional, regardless of how you feel. It’s not the nicest thing but you just go about your job. You have to be professional for the resident that has passed away and the family.”
Another issue which must be dealt with is the constant uncertainty surrounding budgeting. Although the dementia wing at Monaco’s facility is not directly affected by health care budget cuts they are still an issue for the facility. Their funding requirements are set for each level of care which is required and decisions in relation to these levels are made under ACFI (the Aged Care Funding Instrument). “If someone’s care needs reduce or they get a few who’s care needs reduce that means that some of the funding can be cut, but with dementia as their care needs increase we have a scale that we put things on after each shift”. This scale means that funding for dementia can go both ways and when a patient’s care needs increase to another level on this scale there “can be an increase in funding or an increase for another staff member.” Monaco believes that at this point in time, another staff member is exactly what they need.
“It really fluctuates depending on the needs that are actually in the facility and I feel right now we need another staff member for each of the three shifts, you’ve got day shift, evening and night, and each one needs another staff member.”
Even with these issues however, and while her reasons for getting into the industry were deeply personal, Monaco’s reason for staying is each and every resident who she looks after.