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The elderly care on Iceland gave new insights

Published: 29 January 2018

In semester four on the Nursing program, Mariana Alexis chose to do her clinical education in the elderly care on Iceland. The country attracted her with its culture, population and history.

What expectations did you have on the trip?

– I actually did not have any special expectations. I was more worried about how I would communicate with the elderly at the accommodation because I could not speak Icelandic and I had been told that they are not so good at English. I tried to learn some phrases before I traveled to Iceland and well in place, so I managed to learn more everyday phrases. With the staff I communicated in English and a little Norwegian, because many people go to Norway and work, so that worked really well.

What could the days look like?

– On weekdays I did my internship and on the weekends I did some excursions to see and experience more of the city and culture. A typical day at the accommodation looked like a  normal day at a retirement home here in Sweden. The morning began with reporting and morning meeting, then it was time to hand out medicine and perform various blood tests, control of vital parameters etc. At mid day we had a round with the doctor and in the afternoon it was very calm at the accommodation, and we usually tried to do that some activities with the elderly. At the accommodation they had a lot of different daily activities, so there was something for everyone. This meant that everyone had something to do during the days, which was very enjoyable. Otherwise it is very common that elderly at accommodationa are usually depressed and inactive due to lack of activities. Also in Iceland, a major part of the nurse's job is documentation and paperwork, which meant that they did not have as much contact with the elderly as the assistant nurses had. For that reason, I chose to work with the assistant nurses so that I could get better contact and establish relationships with the elderly at the accommodation.

Compare to the Swedish elderly care, what was the biggest difference?

–  Care is practiced in the same way as in Sweden. The only difference I could see was that the accommodation has a warm and homely feel with much joy and love both to the elderly and between the staff. The care that is conveyed to the elderly is absolutely amazing. It is very clear in the staff's thinking and working methods that the work is carried out according to individual needs. Instead of patient-personal relationship, staff members see the elderly as a family member.  For example, the staff never go past an elderly without talking to them or hugging them.

Your strongest memory?

– It must be the waffle day that the accommodation had every Wednesday where everyone was welcome. Every Wednesday there was plenty of people coming there to listen to live music, dance and then go over to the cafeteria in the accommodation, eat waffles and hang out with the elderly.

What experiences do you take for home to Sweden?

–  What I will carry with me both as a student and in my future profession as a nurse is:

- Nursing and treatment towards patients. As a person, I do not always dare to be personal and come close to the patients, but after getting in touch with the care of this accommodation, I have become much better at it and I notice how important it is in building relationships.

- Trying to be productive with my time. The nurse did not always have much time with the elderly as they had so much paperwork to do, but they always tried to make time for the patient. The nurse could sometimes bring one of the patients to come along on a task she would perform. For example, when the nurse had to leave samples on a lab, she brought a resident who likes to take a walk and they could get some time together. Or that the nurse sat down with the elderly and ate lunch to get some extra time with them. At these brief meetings, the nurse could identify new care needs or just get to know the patient better, which is a prerequisite for buildning relationships.

Another thing I will bring home is that nurses on the accommodation used non-pharmacological drugs primarily instead of pharmacological agents. The staff were very skilled at using music therapy and essential oils as tranquilizers. Gardening and animal therapy were also used to increase the well-being of the accommodation. It was very interesting and instructive to get acquainted with this type of nursing and to observe what good effect it had on the elderly.

What would you like to advise anyone who was thinking about doing their clinical education abroad?

–  Take the chance and do it. In addition to a memory for life and new contacts, it is a great experience and an opportunity for personal development. There is some extra work before and after the trip, but it is worth it. I think it's important to learn the language or some phrases to be able to understand. Take care of time and make sure to experience as much as possible both in clincal workplace and the country.