Category Archives: Hospital Professionals

Compassion Fatigue: Caring too Much

Any senior care professional is vulnerable to Compassion Fatigue.  For example, nurses, doctors, counselors, veterinarians, therapists, social workers, chaplains, emergency response workers, and people caring for aging parents. So, what is Compassion Fatigue?

Dr. Charles Figley, describes Compassion Fatigue as, “ a state experienced by those helping people in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it is traumatizing for the helper.”  Furthermore,  “The capacity for compassion and empathy seems to be at the core of our ability to do the work and at the core of our ability to be wounded by the work”.  Compassion fatigue results from the cumulative impact of taking care of people living with serious illness, trauma, abuse, or severe conditions.”  It’s different than job burnout, which is dissatisfaction with our job situation, not the work itself.

But how do you recognize compassionate fatigue?  The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project tells us characteristics include:

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Difficulty connecting – detaching
  • Feeling angry that other caregivers don’t understand the nature of your service
  • Life feels too serious
  • Turning to compulsive or addictive behaviors such as overeating, overspending, alcohol, smoking, etc.
  • Physical symptoms: headaches, gastrointestinal symptoms, muscle tension.
  • Fatigue and apathy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoiding work. Calling in sick or postponing appointments
  • Thinking that this work isn’t for you (when you know in your heart you really love it)

So, how can we avoid Compassion Fatigue? The answer lies in self-care, typically physical support like regular exercise, getting enough sleep and good nutrition. However we shouldn’t stop there. Nancy Jo Bush, an oncology nurse, says that self-care also includes setting empathetic boundaries; self awareness and self forgiveness; being in tune with one’s spirituality and finding hope. Experts agree that reaching out to others and developing a support system is critical.

A friend working in hospice shared a bit of wisdom. Lighten up and don’t forget to laugh. That reminds me of an old Joni Mitchell lyric, “Laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release.” Thanks, Joni. We’ll all try to remember that!

In conclusion, who would you turn to if you needed the support of an understanding friend?

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT is a recognized expert in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She guides professionals in discovering Compassionate Touch in person centered dementia care. She is a team member of AGE-u-cate Training Institute.

Rural Healthcare: Helping Caregivers and Persons Living with Dementia

Access to quality rural healthcare, resources, education, and support is a growing challenge in the US and around the globe.  What does this mean for the growing numbers of persons living with dementia and their families who are caring for them?  How does this affect the quality of care being offered by nursing homes and other care providers?

There are no easy solutions as options are dwindling for many rural communities.  Closures of hospitals mean less health care professionals to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  Community education for families, often a service offered by hospitals and clinics, is then not available.  When the infrastructure of healthcare, private providers and community-based services is compromised, access to much-needed support dwindles quickly.

I recently had the honor to work with the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy who collaborates with the Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, both in Ontario Canada.  The University will be training its pharmacy students using our Dementia Live® and Compassionate Touch® programs and beyond that, they are will be working with Gateway to reach rural communities with desperately needed dementia education and training for families and professionals.

Reaching the indigenous people of the province will be part of this project.  In the 2016 census, the indigenous or Aboriginal peoples in Canada totaled 1,673,785 people or 4.9% of the national population.   Many of the indigenous peoples live in rural areas where access to services is limited.   Bringing dementia awareness and education to rural areas will help to spur collaboration amongst various organizations who need to work together to serve their aging populations and families.

Limited access to rural healthcare is a growing initiative in the US and other countries as the aging population swells.  Because family caregivers make up the vast majority of those caring for persons with dementia, providing quality training, support and access to resources is a top initiative for healthcare, long term care services providers and community-based organizations in urban areas who can collaborate with local services, faith communities and others who have a direct reach to many of the families who are struggling.

Finding local champions who see the value of collaboration, education and support services is ultimately the best measure of success, as the communities themselves embrace the challenges and solutions for their aging communities and the unique needs of persons living with dementia and their families.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  

 

Careers in Aging – Proactive Approaches to the Looming Crisis

March 3 -7 is Careers in Aging Week and an appropriate time to talk about the importance of this topic.  No longer are the shortages of direct care staff and others in long term care a subject of the future.  The crisis is looming and it is serious.

The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to grow to 98 million by 2060, more than double the number we had in 2016.  According to the Population Reference Bureau, between 2020 – 2030, the number of older adults in America will grow by 18 million as the youngest baby boomers hit 65.

Like me, the baby boomers that are marching forward are asking ourselves, “Who will take care of me?”  While families have and will be forced to take on the caregiving tasks for their loved ones, it simply is not the answer or reality for many Americans.   Boomers and GenXers are working,  families are not geographically close enough to take on the role of primary caregivers, the numbers of widows and widowers are growing and many elderly are childless.

According to Government statisticians, home care is one of the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, with an additional million workers needed by 2026!  That is an increase of 50% from 2014.

Without pouring through any more statistics,  growing careers in aging is no longer an option – it must become a priority that starts with our government leaders and is embraced by stakeholders across the spectrum.  It is not a US-only challenge – it is a worldwide crisis that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

Work in long term care, especially direct care workforce has long been associated with low wages, often inconsistent work schedules, limited company benefits, and poor training.  The economic boom has pulled workers from long term care into retail, restaurants, hospitality and other similar businesses that are paying higher wages.  It’s been a catch-22 but the fact that the shortages are colliding with an unprecedented demand is especially frightening.

Without pouring through any more statistics,  growing careers in aging must be a priority that starts with our government leaders and is embraced by stakeholders across the spectrum.  It is not a US-only challenge – it is a worldwide crisis that must be addressed sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, advocacy and lobbying take many years, of which we simply do not have time to wait.

What are the solutions?   There are not any easy ones, but perhaps looking at what we can do locally to turn the tide is going to result in positive outcomes.  We see our partner providers taking our Dementia Live® training to nursing schools, high school students and even out into communities who are embracing Age-Friendly and Dementia Friendly initiatives.  Raising awareness of the growing elderly population and their needs is huge.  Intergeneration programs among schools and churches and the elderly are setting an early example with children that respecting and taking care of our older adults is our duty.

Building awareness is a grass-roots effort and home-grown.  It means take creative efforts to work with others that include public entities, community-based organizations, political leaders and the private sector.  It means elevating the professional standards for those who choose careers in aging.   Careers in Aging is a field that is extremely rewarding.  We can do a better job of conveying this to our younger generation, and even an older generation who is looking to keep working and giving back.   What better way is there to give back than to serve others.

I’d like to hear what you are doing to bring awareness and educate others in your community!

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  You may reach out to Pam at pam@ageucate.com.

I Just WISH I Could UNDERSTAND what Mom is going through…

blackboard against red barn wood

Understanding someone with dementia is not easy.  What are they thinking?  How are they feeling?  Why are they acting the way they do?  These are fundamental questions that perplex professionals and quite simply leave families feeling confused, angry, guilty and helpless.

I have been a family caregiver and moved into the aging and dementia training space to help older adults and the growing numbers of families and professionals who are serving them.  Because I experienced for myself the helplessness that caregivers feel, I can relate well to family members who feel isolated, lost and desperately seeking answers.   Because I was a family member seeking help I know how little was out there 20 years ago.  Guess what?  There is still not enough support out there for families.  We’ve come a long way, but because the numbers of caregivers have swelled so quickly, this will remain a huge challenge in the years to come. Educating, supporting and providing resources for family members who are caring for aging adults, especially those who are living with dementia, is all of our jobs.

Short of a soapbox moment,  we need to get back to basics when it comes to dementia education.  We need to provide powerful, effective and feasible means to deliver education that will help professionals and families in understanding someone with dementia.  We must start with a foundational tool.

Our partner providers, those in elder care communities, home care, hospice, hospitals, community-based organizations, and others are consistently sharing with me their challenges – how to help families who are most often in crisis when they seek their services.   My discussions with leaders across the spectrum of care share a common theme.  Most, and I venture to say that is over 90% of families who are caring for someone with dementia, are in crisis when they transition to home care, an elder care community or reach out to a community-based agency for help. This is an alarming number of people who are exhausted, experiencing caregiver burnout –  physically, emotionally and spiritually, and dealing with overwhelming guilt, anger and hopelessness.

Back to basics in dementia education is greatly needed.  A tool that allows a family and professional to experience what their loved one is struggling with, and to then have someone to talk to that can walk them through the “why” of it all is enormously beneficial.  It’s experiential training at its core.  Stepping into their world for just a moment to allow caregivers to understand mom, or dad, husband, wife, resident or client is HUGE.

Quality education does not have to be complex.  In fact, simple, effective and feasible should be in the mind of everyone who leads education and training.  The next questions should be asked – is this providing a tool?  We need applicable tools that we can walk away with and immediately make changes in how we care for another person.  And these tools should not only improve the quality of life of the person we are caring for but reduce caregivers stress and make their jobs as care partners easier and more rewarding.

In short, we need strong foundational tools that are proven,  successful and work for everyone – from care providers, to their staff and to the families and residents/patients/clients they serve.

Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them.  She is the creator of the Dementia Live® Simulation and Empowerment Experience being embraced by caregivers worldwide.