Students as Helpers
Schools offer community service credit, encouraging work with dementia patients, whom students call grandmas and grandpas. Teenage girls do foot massage at the Cheongam nursing home, which is run by Mrs. Lee, the Alzheimers Association president, for women without sons to care for them. (In South Korea, sons families traditionally shoulder caregiving responsibilities.) During one massage session, 16-year-old Oh Yu-mi rubbed a patients toes, saying: Im doing the heart. The heel is the reproductive system. It will help them excrete better.
Another girl doing foot massage, Park Min-jung, 17, was shaken to realize that dementia could explain why her grandfather recently grabbed a taxi and circled his old neighborhood seeking his no-longer-existent house. He used to be very scary to me, she said, but training made her feel that I can do things for him.
A patient wept as the girls left, upsetting 16-year-old Kim Min-joon, the massage groups leader. She said social workers suggested being less effusive to patients, so the girls leaving would be less traumatic: If there is love or affection of 100 grams, cut it up into 1 gram each and distribute it over 100 visits, not all at once. But Im not good at controlling that, Min-joon said. Even at school, The feeling of their touch remains with me. A boys high school selects top students to help at Seobu Nursing Center, doing art therapy and attempting physical therapy with dances and balloon badminton (the racket is pantyhose stretched on a frame). The boys write observations to help Seobu adjust programs.
At school, they wrote questions on the blackboard: Problems and solutions of communicating with the elderly. Ways to improve and execute exercise routine. How to make sure were all on time.
They dont comprehend my words, said Kim Su-hwan, 16.
Maybe we should get closer to their ears, suggested Kim Jae-kyeum.
Maybe some of us could massage them, said Su-hwan. You do that, Su-hwan, snickered Jae-kyeum.
Smile at them more, another student said. Some of us look like we dont want to do this.
For Kim Han-bit, 16, the program is intensely personal. Han-bit was 13 when his grandmother, who practically raised him, got Alzheimers, and I would just feel it was annoying and walk out of the room, he said. She would ask to do an activity, and I would say, What business do you have doing that? It was my responsibility to feed her, give her drinks, wash her face. But I even resisted and fought back, he said. When she died, he added, I couldnt let out tears.
The dementia caregiving program had made him wonder why I wasnt able to do that with my own grandma, and I think I should do better in the future to compensate for all my wrongdoing, he said. I could have taken care of my grandmother with a grateful feeling. If only I could have.
Recently, he worked to engage Lee Jeong-hee, a patient half his height with missing teeth who laughed, but spoke incoherently.
When I come next time, he said tenderly, please remember me.