In our Tafta blog, we write about anything and everything to do with active ageing, and promoting a life worth living, regardless of age
No doubt the recent intense cold snap sent South Africans scurrying for their heaters and electric blankets … as well as stocking up on coal and fire wood for open fireplaces.
All of which have the potential to cause fires in our homes.
Most fires are caused by human negligence or electrical faults. Non-compliant wiring, overloaded plugs or faulty electrical appliances can catch fire unexpectedly. People who live in older homes – e.g. old wood and iron structures – need to be particularly vigilant, as the wiring could have degraded over the years, or is simply not compliant with latest safety standards.
Now is a good time to take stock of your home in terms of these risks. Especially if you have an elderly family member who may need to be reminded of potential risks like leaving appliances on for extended periods of time, or forgetting about a pot left boiling on the stove.
Here are some tips to protect your home and yourself from fire:
- Keep matches/lighters out of the reach of children.
- Don’t store flammable liquids or pool chemicals anywhere near a heat source or exposed wiring.
- Never leave an open fire or burning candle unattended. If you have a fireplace, use a metal fireguard to prevent sparks or burning logs from falling out and setting carpets or chairs alight.
- Do not smoke in bed.
- Do not overload electrical sockets or run electrical cords under carpets.
- Take care with portable heat generating appliances such as irons, kettles and heaters.
- Switch off your electric blanket before getting into bed.
- Check electric cables regularly for damage; discard appliances with frayed cords.
- Never cover a heater – take note of warnings on all appliances.
- Be very careful when heating oil on a stove top, especially a gas hob. Make sure there are no dish cloths, paper towels or oven gloves near the stove, and regularly clean off grease build up.
- Buy a small fire extinguisher/fire blanket from a reputable dealer to keep in your home – and learn how to use this equipment correctly.
- Safely dispose of cigarettes, hot ash and coals from the fireplace or braai.
- Do not use flammable liquids to start a braai or fire. It’s frighteningly easy to set yourself alight.
- Clean the lint out of tumble driers regularly to prevent a build up. Avoid leaving the machine running while you are away from your home.
So what happens if, despite all your precautions, fire breaks out in your home? Do you know what to do? Or how to treat someone who has been badly burned or scalded?
What to do if fire breaks out in your home:
- Turn off power source if the fire has been started by an appliance.
- If you have a fire extinguisher or fire blanket, use it to put out a small fire.
- If the room is on fire, cover your mouth and nose with a damp cloth to minimise smoke inhalation, and keep low while crawling to safety.
- Do not open a closed door of a room suspected to be on fire.
- Raise the alarm; alert anyone else in the building/neighbours and call the fire department if necessary.
- Do not re-enter your home after a fire until it has been properly evaluated by the fire department.
Half of all home fires start in the kitchen
Deep frying chips and other foods can easily lead to disaster if you are not careful. Be safe by being vigilant:
- Do not put too much oil in the pot and never, ever leave the pot unattended.
- If an oil fire does start, do not try to put it out with water. Since oil and water don’t mix, this can cause a violent reaction, instantly spreading the fire to nearby kitchen cupboards and sending spatters of hot oil flying all over the kitchen and yourself.
- Do not attempt to move the pot. Just turn off the heat source as quickly as possible and cover the pot with a metal lid or fire blanket to suffocate the flames. Leave in place until the pot has cooled completely.
How to treat burns
- Avoid removing clothing as burnt material often sticks to the skin
- Place the burned area under a running cold tap for 15 minutes to cool the area and prevent further damage.
- Don’t put ice on the burn. Never, ever put butter or other lotions on a burn. Use a clean wet dressing or burn shield if you have some in your medicine cabinet. Major burns need to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
- If you accidentally set yourself on fire, remember the drill: stop, drop and roll on the ground to put out the flames.
Elderly people and fires
If you are a care-giver for an elder, or have elderly parents who live alone, special care needs to be taken to keep them safe. Forgetfulness is sometimes part of ageing, as is diminished mobility, making it more difficult for elders to escape from a dangerous situation.
Financial constraints may also lead elders to ‘make do’ with old, unsafe appliances rather than buying new ones. Caring for older loved ones means helping them to create a safe environment, and checking on them regularly.
In our Tafta Homes, safety measures for elders take priority. This includes checking on residents, visiting those who are room-bound, and ensuring that appliances brought into their rooms are in good working order. Cooking is not permitted in rooms where residents are provided with meals.
We also conduct regular health and safety inspections as required by law, and are committed to implementing any improvements recommended by the experts. The latest upgrade to Tafta Lodge is a case in point. We are currently fundraising to have electrical wiring upgraded. Please click the link to assist with a donation.
[September 7, 2021]
August is Women’s month. Time to celebrate the contribution women make to society. And what better place to start than right here in our own Tafta Homes?
We count ourselves fortunate indeed to have so many strong, capable, compassionate and dedicated women on our staff. Like everyone else, they have been touched in one way or another by Covid-19. Some have been infected by the disease themselves. Others have been affected financially, emotionally or mentally.
Yet, without exception, they’ve all put on a brave face and come to work, wearing smiles behind their masks, in order to provide cheerful care and support for our elderly residents.
During lockdown, our nurses and carers were often the only contact elders had with the outside world. They carried an entire support system on their shoulders … delivering messages, gifts and medicines from elders’ loved ones, and easing concern, pain and stress. They were there to provide a listening ear and a hand to hold through some of the scariest moments in our elders’ lives. And they did it with such grace and kindness. All this, while holding back their own fears and caring for their own families as well.
Superwoman has nothing on our carers!
We applaud them and thank them sincerely for their efforts. Not just during Women’s month. But every day of every month. And we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed their dedication. Letters from grateful family members have poured in during these stressful and difficult times.
These letters of appreciation talk about going above and beyond ‘duty’ … about being caring in times of stress … of patience and kindness … and how our staff are ready to put their own lives at risk in order to be there for the elders in their care.
This message of thanks from Nireshni Chellan is just one of many:
“In a time when the world seems to be in chaos, I would really like to extend my appreciation and admiration for one of your social workers – Lungi Mbewe. She has gone beyond duty in assisting me with getting my parents the care that they need.
“Through it all, she has been nothing but polite and caring. Clearly this is her calling. Too often we are quick to complain, but today I would like to take the time to commend an excellent social worker and human being. To Lungi and all the others like her out there – THANK YOU!”
After the awful week of unrest in KZN, more letters of appreciation came flooding in. Staff at Tafta proved again just how resilient they are. They put aside fear and difficulties in order to get to work. They made sure to ease the fears of elders in our care, and reassured elders’ families who were concerned for the safety of their loved ones.
Chris wrote: “Dear Hannelie. I just truly, with all my heart, want to thank you and all the staff SO very much – more than any words can or could possible convey –for leaving your own family, for risking your own life to get to work, to make sure my mom and all the other residents are safe, fed and taken care of. My words do not suffice.”
And from Nadine, Mandy and Mike, “Dear Sister Mala, We wanted to express our thanks to you and your staff at the Care Cottage for the excellent work you are doing in these terribly stressful times. Dealing with the pandemic has been very difficult, but this hideous violence has created problems we never imagined and you have our admiration for the way you are dealing with circumstances. We know our mom appreciated your care immensely.”
Women of Tafta, take a bow!
[August 18, 2021]
For so many of us, the past week has wrought havoc on our lives. Faced with war-zone like conditions, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of human crises of a magnitude never seen before.
As we fight daily to keep our families safe, our possessions intact, and our emotions in check, South Africans – in particular, those in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng – are particularly worried about loved ones living apart from us.
Those lucky enough to live close to their nearest and dearest can support one another other. But for those living further away, there has never been a scarier time as we struggle to shield more vulnerable family members from harm’s way. For the loved ones of older people in particular, the past few days have been traumatic.
A Gauteng based friend, whose 96-year-old grandfather lives with his carer in Durban, is petrified about what will happen if they run out of food and medicines. Another, who flew in from the Cape to be with her elderly parents in Durban, is frustratingly stuck at King Shaka International airport because the roads to her parents’ home remain a no-go zone.
For those who cannot travel to be with relatives at this time, there are other ways to support elderly people living alone and in fear. Here are five steps you can take today to check and support elders in isolation from afar:
- Phone daily to check on elderly parents and friends
Keep communication lines open and check in every day. Do you have a neighbour’s number if older people do not answer their phone? If there is an emergency, do they know how to access the quickest emergency support available? Decide who is your secondary care contact if the older person is not contactable, and speak with care providers about how you will reconnect in the event of an evacuation.
- Have an emergency care plan
Older people with illness or disablility need specific care plans. Keep details of what medication is required, where scripts can be filled and what emergency medication is needed. Also keep a list of extra chronic medication which is required. Should the elder have medic alert bracelets or chains, ask constantly if these are being worn.
- Familiarise yourself with support services close to your loved one
Would you know which is the closest medical facility to call in an emergency? Know your loved one’s exact location and address details. Find out if there are local emergency support groups/chats you can join to be alerted in the case of disaster; these have proved to be invaluable to communities in this time of need.
- Share ideas for simplified living
We know that the food supply chain has been disrupted and shortages are a reality. Look at ways to encourage elders to “stretch” what ingredients they have. Instead of making a curry or roasting a piece of chicken, use that protein to make a pot of stew or soup that will last several meals. Share simple recipes that use fewer ingredients.
- Most importantly, keep them calm
Older people are particularly vulnerable to the physical impact of emotional turmoil. Try not to alarm an older person living alone, who may be insulated from the onslaught of social media. Too much distressing information is not helpful. Share only what they need to know for their immediate safety.
We stand with many, many peaceful South Africans in praying for an end to the violence and looting. Let us all do our part to hasten our country’s return to normality.
[July 14, 2021]
It’s no secret that elders were the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Apart from fear and anxiety at the thought of becoming seriously ill – they had to learn to live without any of the activities that bring them joy: visits from loved ones … family outings … connections with friends over tea and bingo … trips to the shops and the chance to pass the time of day with acquaintances they bumped into.
In house volunteers
During Lockdown, Tafta’s in-house volunteers really stepped up to fill the gap and help their fellow residents deal with loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Armed with technology tools for effective communication on Facebook and WhatsApp, they shared news and uplifting messages, and provided a channel of communication between staff, elders and families. Many also took on practical responsibilities to keep our Homes running smoothly despite skeleton staff.
Moving away from a culture of dependency
According to Barnes Cottage resident, Lance Marshall, older people have a tendency to shift the responsibility for their happiness and well-being onto others. What they should be doing is moving away from the culture of dependency and start doing things for themselves … creating the lives they want to live and adding purpose and meaning to their days.
For Lance and fellow resident, Jenny Davies, that means playing an active role in the running of their complex.
Working with Tafta management, the pair were able to suggest improvements to the complex security system which led to a cost saving in residents’ levies. Jenny has also been instrumental in creating a buddy system, where neighbours check up on each other. She loves the bonds of friendship that this has fostered.
Another active participant in the management of the complex, the elegant and soft spoken Barbara Johnston (91) acts as the social secretary. “I love bringing people together,” she says. “People here are incredibly kind and look after each other so well.”
Social interaction has become critical
This kind of social interaction has become critical in our Covid-19 world, as elders are forced into isolation, denied pleasurable outings and activities, and forbidden visits from family and friends. Depression, loneliness and boredom are the inevitable result of this new ‘normal’.
To combat the negative effects, Tafta actively recruited and encouraged the formation of teams of in-house volunteers – known as communication champions – who are willing and able to serve their peers by sharing news, spreading uplifting messages and taking on practical responsibilities to ensure the smooth running of our homes during staff shortages.
Actively engaged and positive
Although the communication champion network was implemented primarily as a way to address fears and spread factual information about Covid-19, while encouraging elders to remain actively engaged and positive in the face of confining restrictions, we noticed a spin off benefit to the volunteers.
Basil Usher is a people’s person, who enjoys being around people, listening to them and doing whatever is needed to help them. He took to his new role like a duck to water, and is never happier than when he is standing at the front entrance, bottle of sanitiser at the ready, making sure that anyone who enters is safe.
“I also help with the groceries and take delivery of people’s medication,” he says “I take these up to the people’s rooms, and pass on messages from their families, who are not allowed onto the premises during lockdown.”
“You could send him for anything,” said Nomphilo Makhize, one of our caregivers. “And he wouldn’t complain. He is a true champion.”
Another resident who helped out was Lynette Matthews, who took over the reins at reception for a couple of months. “I was very happy,” she said, “because I could meet a lot of people. We were on Facebook and WhatsApp, encouraging all the other Tafta Homes to join in and work through the frustrations together.
“Depression hit this building very badly and we were all affected by the lockdown restrictions. I was glad that I could pray for some of the people and encourage them to be uplifted by something.”
Relief Building Supervisor
At Tafta Lodge, 64 year old Amy Green serves as a relief Building Supervisor. For many, she is the first point of call – helping other elders sort out problems with their televisions or cell phones. Amy also checks up on those who are not well and, if they are in isolation, checks their temperature and oxygen levels.
Dependable, helpful and always willing to go the extra mile, Amy does all of this during her free time, without expecting anything in return. No wonder she is a much loved and greatly appreciated member of the Tafta Lodge ‘family’.
At our service centres too, we have dynamic teams of volunteer elders who prepare meals, snacks and cakes for sale, to generate income to help others in need. At the Anna Conradie Centre, they’re using the funds raised to create gift packs for the homeless.
“We believe that giving back is also a way of showing gratitude for the years of receiving,” explains centre co-ordinator, Jacky Russell.
Engaged communities of decision makers
At the age of 84, our charming and distinguished ‘Jimmy’ Wykes diligently arrives at the Mary Asher Centre every morning at 7.30 sharp to man the registration desk. His warm, friendly smile makes everyone feel welcome and he helps keep everyone safe by sanitising their hands and the food trolley.
Tafta CEO Femada Shamam wholeheartedly cheers on these special champions. “We’re an organisation that supports the active engagement of our elders in decisions about their homes and their lives. We are always ready to listen and make changes that benefit our residents. I love that these elders have transformed their homes into engaged communities of decision makers who approach us with viable proposals aimed at bringing positive changes to their lives.”
[July 6, 2021]
Elder Abuse is everyone’s business. If you suspect that an elderly person may be the victim of physical, mental or financial abuse, please contact Tafta without delay.
At Tafta, we hear about cases through face-to-face contact, telephone calls and emails, often anonymous, where abuse is either suspected, alleged or witnessed. All suspected and reported cases are investigated immediately, and prompt action taken to protect vulnerable elders or remove them from abusive situations.
Signs and symptoms of elder abuse can be confused with the natural ageing process
Unfortunately, elder abuse is not always easy to identify. Old people bruise easily and may be covered in cuts and bruises if they are unsteady on their feet and bump into furniture, doors and walls. Those affected by memory loss or the onset of Alzheimer’s may be confused about what happened to them. In cases like this, it’s all too easy for abusers to deny wrongdoing … and to be believed.
Even worse, they may convince the victim that he or she is mistaken, adding to their feelings of doubt and helplessness. Elders may also be afraid to speak up if they are being abused by care givers or family members, because they’re worried about retaliation or making the situation worse.
To mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Melaine Pillay, Social Work Supervisor at Tafta, shares a recent case history, which illustrates the challenges.
Mrs. John is a 77 year old widow. She was living with her three adult children and totally dependent on them. Her only source of income is R1860 which she receives from her old age pension.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mrs John used to visit her neighbour, Sally. They would share an afternoon cup of tea and watch their favourite soap opera together. During her last visit, Mrs. John mentioned that she had lost her SASSA card and could not remember where she had left it. The two laughed at Mrs. John’s ageing and possible memory loss. Sally volunteered to talk to Mrs. John’s daughter about the missing card.
She phoned the following day to ask the daughter to please help her mum find the card, as Mrs John seemed very worried that her memory was failing. The daughter’s response both surprised and concerned Sally. She became angry and snapped, “My mum’s financial affairs are none of your concern!” After that, Mrs. John’s visits to Sally stopped abruptly.
Causing trouble in the family
Sally didn’t want to cause any further trouble within the family, but she felt that someone should help Mrs John. She called Tafta Head Office to share her concerns, but wanted to remain anonymous. We immediately arranged for our area Social Worker to visit the home to assess the circumstances. She gave Mrs John a Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) which indicated that Mrs John has a mild degree of impairment, resulting in some memory loss.
The old lady confirmed that her SASSA card had been missing for almost 4 months and she had asked her children to help her find it, without success. Mrs. John could not provide an accurate recollection of events and felt as though she was losing her mind. Our Social Worker was able to confirm that, owing to the onset of the mild cognitive impairment, Mrs. John’s children had taken her SASSA card and were using her pension for their own needs.
Physical health at risk
Her health had also deteriorated because she was not receiving adequate meals on time. Nor was she taking her chronic medication or visiting the hospital for her regular check-ups – a cycle often associated with older people who lose their autonomy owing to the onset of mild cognitive impairment.
Mrs John seemed to be afraid to speak openly as she did not want to upset her children. Her general demeanour was one of sadness and despair. Apart from feeling confused, she felt that she could not depend on her children and was now questioning her safe space.
Mrs. John’s children refused to meet with us and denied any knowledge of where her card was, but SASSA confirmed that the money was being withdrawn from the card immediately after each payment. Our social worker accompanied Mrs John to SASSA where the card was stopped and she was able to arrange for her pension to be paid directly into her bank account.
Thereafter,we arranged a formal assessment at Addington Hospital to ascertain the level of cognitive impairment and to ensure that Mrs. John receives the necessary medication and treatment to delay the progression of her condition.
Mrs. John refused to press criminal charges, saying: “They are my children, I cannot punish them.” But she did agree that in order to feel safe and secure, she would like to live within the protected environment of a Tafta facility.
She now receives her meals and medication on time, is escorted to hospital for check-ups and participates in the programmes held at the wellness centre. She also participates in activities recommended by the attending Psychiatrist, aimed at stimulating her brain to continue functioning for as long as possible.
She has made many friends at Tafta and now has a bright smile whenever the Social Worker visits her to monitor her progress. She continues to enjoy her soap opera with new friends. Her old neighbour Sally often visits too.
Because Mrs. John misses her children, the Social Worker has reached out to them to visit her when they can. We will continue to reunify the relationship with them and provide the much-needed aftercare and reconstruction services the family require. It is also important for Mrs. John’s children to be educated on dementia and how this has adversely affected their mother, and how the disease will progress as she ages.
Act on suspicions
We are so grateful for caring neighbours like Sally, who act on their suspicions. Even if these turn out to be unfounded, it’s much better to be safe.
All suspected and reported cases are investigated immediately by our Social Workers in line with the Protocol on Management of Elder Abuse issued by the Department of Social Development.
The first step is for the Social Worker to visit the (alleged) victim in his or her
home to assesses the circumstances and living conditions. Based on this assessment, the following actions may be taken:
- Medical assessment of the elder by a medical practitioner.
- The victim, accompanied by the Social Worker, is encouraged to report the incident to the South African Police Services for criminal investigation.
- If the perpetrator lives with the victim, arrangements are made to either remove the perpetrator with the assistance of SAPS, or alternate accommodation is secured for the older person.
- The older person is assessed through the DQ98 (a Dependency Questionnaire) which indicates if the older person can live independently, requires Assisted living, or requires Frail care.
- Based on the score of the DQ98, options regarding suitable facilities are explored with the older person.
- The older person is placed in the relevant facility.
- The Social Worker monitors the older person either in their home in the community or at the placement facility to ensure that he/she receives effective services to reduce the effects of the trauma and prevent any additional trauma.
As a preventative measure, Tafta also regularly runs awareness programmes on elder abuse in all communities, creating awareness and educating people about the referral structures and services available to both victims and perpetrators.
The Older Persons Act (Act 13 of 2006) stipulates in Section 26, that any person who suspects that an older person is abused must immediately notify the Director-General or a police official of his/her suspicion. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.
All suspected cases are lodged with the Department of Social Development, and forwarded to the Director-General, accompanied by a comprehensive Social Work report. Within 6 weeks, a supplementary Social Work report is submitted on developments that occurred since the initial investigation, the outcome of the investigation, and the interventions needed to protect the older person. Records are kept of all reported cases – to ensure continuity of services and the continued protection of the older person. These records also serve as a research tool to monitor trends that occur incidentally and geographically, and guide both future awareness campaigns and our intervention alternatives for any future cases.
[June 14, 2021]