A documentary, titled ‘Anita’s Nursing Home Stay’ offers a rare insight into the day-to-day activities of what it’s like to be a frail old resident in a nursing home.

Anita Kapoor, a young TV host and caregiver, volunteered to spend two weeks in one of Singapore’s nursing homes as an “elderly resident”.

Her first hand experience was nothing short of eye-opening.

Raising questions on care dilemmas like protection versus personal autonomy, and efficiency versus dignity.

Anita goes to stay at the Salvation Army’s Peacehaven Nursing Home. For the purposes of the experiment she is “diagnosed” with mild dementia and incontinence, and has trouble swallowing and is wheelchair bound.

“It’s weird to see your existence broken down to a bed, a bedside table, meals and interaction. And just very specific spaces.”

During her time there, Anita wore incontinence pads, ate their food, and even had someone else bathe her.

Anita finds the other residents caring and able in different ways. They help each other out. On her first day, one resident moved the tissue box closer to Anita at the dining table and encourages her to eat. This moves her to tears.

“People are more welcoming here than in regular life,” says Anita, “I think people could learn from that”.

Anita who is labelled as a “high risk of falls”,  she is made to wear a “body jacket” that is restrained to the bed to ensure she doesn’t fall off the bed – all for “her own safety”.

Anita describes the “body jacket” as being very similar to a straightjacket. Made from a fabric that is not breathable “at all”.

“Whenever someone says to me ‘it’s for your safety’ all I think about is ‘what about your dignity?’,” Anita says as she is strapped down to her bed.

At 5am, Anita is woken to have her vital signs checked. The bright lights make it hard for her to fall back asleep. And overnight a smell of urine and faeces has developed from the other residents.

Anita finds the bathing process particularly uncomfortable. She is bathed by a carer on a metal chair. And what particularly catches her eye, is how quick each resident’s shower is. Shower or bathing is often dependent on staff capacity.

“The current system, this is absolutely not a home. 70-80 per cent of it, there is nothing homely about it.”

The days drag on, “I have no realisation of what time it is. And there’s long moment of nothing going on. How long can you sit, seriously?”

During Anita’s time at the facility, she meets – and befriends – many of the residents.

“It made me so determined that the ‘story’ of each person is as important as the ‘care’ of each person. Because the story dictates the care – that’s what I think.”

The documentary was commissioned by the Lien Foundation in the hope to raise awareness and create a healthy conversations on ways to improve the quality of life in nursing homes.

When asked why The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home was involved with the film project the Mdm Low Mui Lang, Executive Director said;

“We are always striving to serve our residents better. This documentary project allows us to have another perspective of the nursing home experience from the eyes of a ‘user’. Although Anita is not a typical nursing home resident with dementia, some of her observations from her stay underscore the complex questions we face in nursing homes today. Like, certain support aids have to be used in order to protect the resident’s wellbeing, and it’s always a delicate balance between the need for safety and the downsides of over-protection.”

Perhaps this could be the awareness we need here in Australia too.

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