Anyone working in the field of senior caregiving knows how important it is to find meaning in our work and service. Author Simon Sinek tells us to Start with Why. I’m haunted by the memory of a man who reminded me of why I continue to love senior caregiving. I met Frank in a nursing home where I was teaching a Compassionate Touch workshop. I first noticed him because he wasn’t particularly old, at least not by senior care standards, and because he was tall and muscular. He was sitting in a corner in the hallway near the nurse’s station. By his appearance, I was pretty sure he had suffered a stroke some time back.
During the first two days of the training, my students and I went about our business interacting with elders and memory care staff. On the third day, I noticed Frank sitting in the same spot– for hours, just sitting there. He didn’t interact with anyone and seemed frustrated. He restlessly pushed on the wheelchair footrests. The wheelchair was locked so he couldn’t go anywhere and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t propel the wheelchair himself. Lots of people passed by in the hallway, but no one paid him much mind. He seemed invisible. And lonely. And really frustrated.
Frank is exactly the person I love to seek out to serve. So, on the third day I pulled up a chair and sat next to him, introducing myself and there was immediate eye contact. While he had trouble with speech, he still could carry on a conversation. He told me he was a veteran and grew up in Illinois. I also learned that he believed his age to be 37. Other signs of confusion were there, too. I held his hand and arm affected by the stroke. He was receptive to touch. I asked if his back was uncomfortable. He indicated yes, so I gently rubbed his shoulders and He told me it felt good and with very clear speech, thanked me.
The next day he was again sitting in the same spot. I asked him if he would like to sit somewhere else. He pointed to a spot about six feet
away that was near a desk. With a little effort, because of his size, I maneuvered his wheelchair around so he could reach the desk with his hands. He reached out took hold of a newspaper and proceeded to read it! Regardless of his reading comprehension, he engaged in something purposeful that clearly meant something to him. The restlessness stopped. I sat with him about five minutes and I saw a glimmer of a sense of humor. As I left, he took my hand and said “thank you for stopping.”
Now, Frank’s memory haunts me. In a bad way and a good way. Bad because his plight troubles me since I’m pretty sure that he is sitting in that same corner spot as I write this. Invisible again. However, good because Frank is a gut-check of why I do what I do. Thank you, Frank, for reminding me of why I love senior caregiving.
When visiting someone with dementia, be ready for anything. Things can change day- to- day, even moment- to- moment in dementia care. A little preparation can go a long way to help create a positive experience in dementia care. Have a “magic bag” ready that you can pull things out of that may reach through the dementia to the person inside.
The magic begins by interacting with all the senses. Though some senses may have diminished from effects of dementia, other senses may still be sharp. In previous posts, we suggested pictures or items to bring back memories. There’s memory magic in senses beyond just vision.
The key to creating magic is to learn what the person did in the past or what was happening in the era that they grew up in, and then recreate sensory experiences to evoke memories.
Sound magic is not limited to just music. You can find recorded sounds of just about anything online, especially on Youtube. Here are a few favorite examples.
Familiar sounds often help to recall memories and evoke emotions and stories are sure to follow.
Touch magic is made with texture of familiar things from a person’s life. Present different textures of things such as fruits, fabrics, sand, beans, string/yarn, seashells, leaves, doll babies, tools, engines, aprons. Explore with many objects to discover which ones bring comfort or trigger memories.
If your magic bag contains objects to see, hear and touch, you’ll be equipped to conjure special moments. Care partners become detectives as we look for pieces of life. Because you never know what that one thing will be that reaches a forgotten piece. The magic happens while taking the journey together.
The senior care work force of tomorrow should be at the top of discussion topics for eldercare leaders. Investing in development and retention of great workers, along with competitive wages and benefits is vital. Many areas of the country are already facing critical shortages in front line staff and this trend will no doubt spread quickly as baby boomers need increasing aging services.
The eldercare sphere offers young workers growth in a dynamic field that will continue to open doors of opportunities for decades ahead. Beyond that, it’s critically important that the altruisitc side of the “business” provides avenues to provide purpose in our lives.
Creating forward-thinking workers means creating ways for their voices and ideas to be heard; tools that empower them to grow and flourish as team members in your organization; and lastly to guide them in their path of being the best they can be in the challenging work that they do each and every day.
In his article, The Senior Care Workforce-Raising the Floor of Job Quality, Steven Dawson tell us, “…stakeholders must recalculate their economic self-interest and begin to compete for those workers whom they have heretofore presumed – by making direct care jobs more attractive relative to competing occupations. This can be achieved through higher pay and benefits, predictable hours, better training and greater support.”
Stop, look and listen to those who carry your business mission out every day; build teams of idea makers, and recognize the accomplishments and miracles that take place each and every day by those that work and live alongside your residents, patients, clients or customers.
Invest first and leaders will follow.