Whanaungatanga key to successful kaumātua Better Breathing sessions at Rehua Marae

The old adage – there’s no place like home – is a proverb the Integrated Respiratory team held close when working with the kaumātua | elders at Rehua Marae to design a modified Better Breathing pulmonary rehabilitation programme in August 2023.

Community Respiratory Physiotherapist Mersha Shepherd said the team knew it was important to build whanaungatanga | connection with the kaumātua to ensure they created a successful programme to be delivered at the Marae. 

“This experience has taught me a lot about how to make that connection and how to do it well. Regardless of whether you’re Māori or non-Māori, people want to know that you care and they want to be connected to you,” says Mersha. 

Clinical Nurse Specialist Louise Weatherall said the team went in with an open mind about how the eight-week programme could be adapted so it met the wants and needs of kaumātua, rather than taking along preconceived ideas. 

“As you get more involved in the process, you become more relaxed and the kaumātua pick up on that and relax with you,” says Louise. 

Kaumātua Lorraine Warena said she found the sessions enjoyable because she is with other kaumātua and there’s that Māori presence in the room. 

“It was fun to be a part of Mersha’s class and to be doing an activity with kaumātua that we are all enjoying as a rōpū | group,” says Lorraine. 

“Mersha wasn’t just standing there doing some exercises and not engaging. She was very much engaged and had us moving. Even the kaumātua sitting in the chairs were moving and that is fantastic to see.”

Eighty year old Kaumātua Frank Henare enjoyed the company and the surroundings.

“I loved the exercises. It meant alot to me. It you want something different, if you want to get on in life, take it while you got it,” says Frank.

“It takes alot of tension out, especially if you had a hard day or night before. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve done since I left school.”

Whakapono (Lewis) Moke-Makatia enjoys that you meet people that you don’t know and that they just come together as one.

“It’s like just getting out of bed and feeling content,” says Whakapono.

The team have found there are no rules to how the sessions run and that each one turns out different. 

Mersha admits this has been a challenging at times, because they come from an organised and structured progamme.

“We have to just go with the flow and it’s not a bad thing to learn how to do something different and to be led by what people’s needs are, rather than what you think their needs are,” says Mersha.

“If you look around the room, there’s lots of smiles and laughter.” 

Louise says the kaumātua have been so welcoming and made it easy to come to this space as strangers – “we leave as friends.” 

The team have appreciated the support of their own kaumātua Mac Renata, volunteer Tarihira and Rehua Marae nurse Linda Wood. 

Watch a video featuring Mersha, Louise and some of the participants talking about their experience. 

The Better Breathing programme is a free eight-week pulmonary rehabilitation programme available for people with long-term breathing conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). More information about the programme can be found here.  

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