What happens when an eldercare professional becomes a family caregiver? This situation hit home when my husband had a cycling accident and fractured his hip. I was surprised by my reaction to suddenly becoming his care partner, juggling the role of home nurse, personal care attendant, meal provider, and problem solver of getting around in our two-story house. Somewhere in the mix I was also moral support and empathizer. The first week centered on creating a new routine, helping with pain management and personal care. Oh, and wound dressing changes. I quickly was reminded why I never became a nurse, calling a nurse-friend in a panic because the dressing from the hospital was stuck to the wound and I was sickened by pulling it off! If I’m perfectly honest, I felt angered at times by this turn of events that intruded our lives- I didn’t have time for this! It didn’t help seeing my active husband now using a walker- making him “old” to my eyes, bringing up fear about what’s to come as we age.
Now four weeks later I’m a bit more philosophical and I wonder about the interplay of personal and professional roles for those of us with years of experience in eldercare services. As an occupational therapist and dementia care educator I’d like to think I know something about managing home care. But I acknowledge that when it’s personal it’s a totally different dynamic. The boundaries become fuzzy and my emotions make it hard to be as objective as I would be in a professional role.
Luckily our situation is temporary. I know so many people for whom caregiving is endured for years, like my nurse friend who recently lost her husband to dementia and cancer. She cared for him at home for five years. We all will be eldercare partners at some point. I guess we have to suite up, show up, do the best we can, and allow others to help us out along the way.
I’m not a big fan of reality TV shows. The “supposedly” unscripted real-life situations to me are far from a virtual tour through life. That said, I do find myself entertained from time to time at the subject matter some creative person comes up with to actually create a show. Unbelievable…
I visited with a dear friend recently who has been caring for her sweet mother for many years. Once healthy and mobile, age and illness is slowly taking its toll Painful neuropathy, crippling arthritis and diminishing eyesight have teamed up to challenge her spirit and soul. My friend is tired and I often see glimpses of resentment, despite her deep love, respect and genuine concern for providing the care she deserves. This scenario could easily be a true reality tv show, however the ratings would struggle.
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Our team was priviledged to have recently been asked to present at the North Dakota Long Term Care Association. Included in this event was a special one day Frontline Caregiver Conference. In an industry faced with severe staff shortages, particularly in North Dakota, we certainly applaud the leaders that chose to honor frontline staff with a day to network with other professionals, enjoy some pampering from vendors (massages and mani’s to name a few!) and develop new skills to enhance their very demanding jobs.
After a busy week, it was nice to reflect on the events that took place during the flight back to Texas. I have deep respect for those who choose the path of caring for elders. While it can be a rewarding profession, it’s also one of the hardest jobs on the planet. My heart and soul for the senior care sphere is embedded in years of personal caregiving for my own parents. I learned quickly how heartwrenching it is to witness a parent’s declining health; to rely on someone else to love and nurture them when you can no longer do it all yourself; and to put one’s own needs aside to give wholly to someone, especially when they are struggling.
Through this, I witnessed multitudes of caregivers who were professionals in their field, having the unexplainable gift of serving, communicating and giving unconditionally. This takes a special human being. As a family member, these caregivers were our angels.
To the associations and providers who are stepping up to honor frontline staff, I applaud you and encourge others to add this to your agendas for your next conference, convention or symposium. For elder care communities, this should be engrained in your culture. One client we have the honor to work with actually flips the org chart every morning. Those they serve come first, and guess whose next? The frontline staff. THAT is culture change.
The life blood of our industry lies in empowering, training and supporting our frontline staff. We are privileged to help in this efforts. We need to all move in the same direction with these core values and committment to changing our culture together.
Honoring our seniors means honoring those who care for them.