- Tell us how you got into nursing, Maria?
I’ve been working in elderly care since I was 18. My mother, who is a “Silviasyster” worked at a care home when I was younger. There were times when my sister and I would follow her to work before the evening shift, and my father would pick us up from there. I liked visiting her workplace, and often times the residents were really nice.
When my sister and I grew up, we stopped visiting the care home. The only older people we met was when my great grandmother got quite sick and had to move into a facility herself. I was really afraid of visiting her as so many of the guests there were quite ill.
At the age of 18, I graduated from high school and my mother brought me into elderly care to work in the same field. I was again pretty nervous at the beginning, but I loved being in that environment. I was able to quickly focus on others, provide help and assistance when the guests needed it, and was really appreciated for my efforts. It is still a great feeling to work so meaningfully by helping others.
- What are the advantages of working with older persons?
I think particularly for younger people, it is great to gain perspective by taking the time to meet, talk and build a relationship with the elderly. For one thing, you get out of your own head – because we all tend to be so tied up in our thoughts these days. Secondly, helping others is rewarding. That human interaction is powerful, and the feeling of gratefulness and appreciation is rewarding. And lastly, you can learn a lot about the human condition by being around different people.
I recall one gentleman who worked at sea all his life. He was still quite strong but very sick, and so adamant about doing things himself. He’d done so all his life, so accepting help wasn’t going to be easy. But over time, as we got closer, he started to let me assist. We had a good relationship – there was trust and understanding and respect. I am really proud to have been able to help him when he needed and wanted it the most.
- You won the Queen Silvia Nursing Award Sweden scholarship in 2019 because of your idea to facilitate the easy and independent removal of compression socks for the elderly. How did you come up with your winning idea?
I was working on the weekends with a home care organization. Oftentimes, my tasks during the evening hours was to visit between 5-10 different clients before my shift ended. Many times, the only reason behind my home visit was to help the clients remove their compression socks.
They often felt a little bad about calling me in for this task, but they honestly couldn’t do it on their own because the fabric was so tight, as it should be.
The process was that I’d go in, remove the compression socks, and leave. Sometimes it took a little under 5-minutes of our time, but it was essential that they were removed before the client could turn in for the night.
I also thought about my grandmother at this time. She also needed compression socks and did not always want to have someone to rely on for the removal task. I wanted to find a way to help her find a little more freedom to call people if she needed help, and to support her need for independence in the removal of these essential clothing items. That’s when I came up with my winning idea. I harnessed the natural physical motions of our bodies, and iinvented a way in which the removal of compression socks can be done easily and independently.
- Where are you in the developmental process of your winning idea?
I’ve spent the summer working on a prototype, creating a brochure, and finding ways to explain the concept to users. At this time, due to COVID-19 I can’t get into any care facilities to test it, so I’ve had to be extra careful with my explanations in the videos and other print materials. It has been very interesting because throughout this process you really learn to simplify things to the most necessary elements. I’ve worked through prototypes this summer that have challenged me to think what is truly needed to get my idea to work as easily as possible
Of course, it is important to find out what users liked or didn’t like about it. Was it difficult to use? Were the instructions easy to comprehend? Where could improvements be made? Did the materials hold up to their testing?
My goal is ultimately to get this patented so my invention can be brought to market. I’d love to be able to get this out by Christmas 2020, basically a year after winning the Queen Silvia Nursing Award 2019 scholarship! I hope that we can find people who will want to buy it or distribute it.
- What does it mean for you to be able to improve nursing care for the elderly and people with dementia?
It means a lot to be recognized for my creativity and ideas. I have a blog that I run that captures my journey as a nurse and some of the ideas that I have– but the Queen Silvia Nursing Award was the first time I started really recording ideas and playing around with the concept of making something work.
I actually have another project ongoing with 2 friends that focuses on hand sanitization. It will be fun to see which of these ideas land so we can move forward with them.
I am also understanding the complexities of dementia and all diseases of cognitive decline a lot more now. When I was working, the municipality of Malmö provided all of us who worked in care facilities with information about dementia. It was a short course, and I had no knowledge previously, but the little that I did receive made an incredible difference. Now that I’m finishing up my studies, I can see that how critical it is for all of us to have more knowledge about dementia so we can contribute to better care and maybe even better solutions to help people with a diagnosis. So many people don’t know anything about this disease. And with many people getting older around us, we have to appreciate that sooner or later, the likelihood of having someone affected with a diagnosis within your circle is getting higher all the time.
- Do you have any advice to 2020 applicants?
If you have an idea, or just a thought about how things can be a little better for someone you are caring for, just write it down and apply. If you are a nursing student or nurse, you must have seen a lot of small areas that you thought to yourself, “Oh – this would be better if it could just be changed this way.”
I was just collecting ideas with my friends and working casually through some concepts. I sent one in and won. Every idea is worthy. No idea is too stupid or too small. Any improvement within care and especially for the elderly and people with dementia is valuable. Nurses see and experience so much. We have ideas that are interesting and exciting, so don’t be afraid and apply!