KIDNEY failure patients and their family members may neglect an important aspect of dealing with the illness – how well the person is coping psychologically with his condition. So a National Kidney Foundation (NKF) peer-support programme was set up in 2009 to help kidney patients better handle this. Now,it is bearing fruit. Preliminary results released by NKF this month show that patients who participated in the scheme were less depressed andanxious. They also responded better to treatment and better managedtheir programme. With over 200 participants, it is the biggest psychological intervention programme for dialysis patients to date, said Dr Konstadina Griva, an assistant professor in health psychology from the National University of Singapore.
The 38-year-old Greek national, who is the brains behind the scheme, told The New Paper that growing up with ill family members helped her better understand the psychological challenges faced by patients with chronic illnesses. A relative suffered several strokes, while another developed diabetes at age 13. She said: “I know how much of a burden kidney patients must feel. They must stick to a special diet, restrict their fluid intake and take medication. “They must also make time for dialysis, which is intrusive and unpleasant. So, it’s easy for patients to want to give up. “They may slip up, and sometimes need reminders to get back on track.”
Group sessions Under the programme, patients attend three group sessions, each two hours long. Each session is attended by eight patients and facilitated by two NKFhealth-care workers. During the session, patients are encouraged to discuss behaviours related to their condition. If they have problems such as sticking to a diet or limiting the amount of water they consume, the rest of the group can encouragethem or offer practical advice. Said Dr Griva: “As outsiders, we can show concern for the patient. But sometimes, a patient needs the advice of another patient to effect change in behaviour.” One group encountered a patient who could not giveupeating nuts, said Dr Griva. “Instead of telling him to stop eating nuts altogether, the group discussed why it was difficult to cut down on them. “We explained that nuts are high in phosphate. If he continues eating them, he might have to go to hospital, which is unpleasant and expensive.” They then suggested he moderate his nut intake and he did.
One of the facilitators, Mr Job Loei, 47, is a senior manager withNKFand also a dialysis patient. He said: “We have all experienced the symptoms, and can suggest ideas to help other patients. The whole idea is that if I can cope, so can you.” Dr Griva proposed the idea to the NKFin 2008 and it was implemented as a trial the following year. NKF staff, including its director of medical services, Dr Mooppil Nandakumar, and its head of care and counselling, Mrs D. S. Palakrishnan, also helped out with the project. It was fully funded, to the tune of $150,000, by an NKFfund, started in 2007.
This fund is named after the late Venerable Yen Pei, a leader of the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services who was committed towards relieving the plight of kidney patients. Said NKF’s chief executive officer, Mrs Eunice Tay: “Treating the mind is just as important as treating the body. “I see this as a meaningful project in motivating the patients (to) become more positive in dealing with their chronic disease.” Dr Griva’s study is among the studies, projects and lectures that will be presented at NKF’s first scientific meeting on Feb 4 for researchers and health-care professionals to share and exchange ideas and encourage discussions to advance renal care. To register, please call 6299 0200 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org