BUBBE TALK: Respect and appreciation for our loved ones, and their caregivers



BUBBE TALK: Respect and appreciation for our loved ones, and their caregivers

Last summer, the Red Sox were playing Toronto. My goal was to put the game on TV for my friend, Jim, who lives in a nursing home. He cannot turn on the television himself and it’s challenging to position it so he can see it.

Jim had a debilitating stroke and is now adjusting to his new normal.

There’s nothing normal about what he goes through to get through each day. “Normal” would be finding the remote and turning on the television himself. Jim can’t do that.

He cannot move without help. He is hoisted from bed in the morning and placed in a reclining wheelchair. In the late afternoon he is lifted from the chair and put back to bed until the next day.

The facility where Jim lives is old. His hospital bed takes up much of the space allotted to him (he has a roommate and they are separated by a curtain). There are shelves and a dresser with three drawers. A hospital table turns into a lifeline when it is not used for meals. Positioned just so, it gives him access to the telephone, a cup of water, and a few chocolates left by his daughter.

Just a few years before the stroke, Jim welcomed his first grandchild into the world. He had recently retired and was ready to dive into this new chapter. Everything changed instantly. The stroke robbed him of his independence and ability to be a doting Papa.

Jim’s granddaughter just turned five and during a visit asked why Papa couldn’t go home. Home is much nicer, she said.

The quality of his days are determined by whether or not his caregivers understand him. Is he treated with compassion and kindness? He may have a staff member who jokes with him as he or she dispenses medicine or delivers a meal. Or he will have a caregiver who won’t make eye contact.

Jim has trouble getting to sleep. A thoughtful evening nurse comes in when he calls and says “let’s give it 15 minutes. I’ll come back and check on you then.” Nine times out of ten, he is asleep when the nurse returns. The assurance that someone cares is all he needs. But this particular nurse doesn’t work every night and each staff member has their own way of responding to residents.

In our “system” of caring for people who live in nursing homes, there are two groups in need of understanding and compassion: caregivers and care recipients. They have a lot in common. Generally speaking, most are unhappy. If you are attended to by someone who robotically does what is necessary but can’t connect to you in a human way, you suffer.

When this is your job, it is grueling work. How many patients are in your queue for toileting and bathing in addition to your other responsibilities?

Is this a profession that you would encourage your kids to pursue? As we age, is this how we want to spend our last days?

Resident centered care can improve life for staff and nursing home residents. It’s an approach that ensures caregivers know residents – as individuals – beyond their physical and cognitive diagnoses.

Caregiving is based on human connection and understanding. For example, staff would know that Jim gets anxious and how to help. They would know he needs a pillow to support his neck when he gets settled in his wheelchair (and realize it takes a little extra time to get it positioned right).

Staff would know he could be more self-reliant if each morning, someone helped him arrange his hospital table so that he could reach the telephone. They would also know that there is additional support for them when the work becomes too much.

My wish for Jim – and other residents – is thoughtfulness with each interaction from every caregiver. I understand that it is hard to deliver consistently on this because everyone is different, everyone wants attention, understanding and reassurance.

My wish for the hardworking caregivers? Appreciation, continuing education and mentoring that creates a career track with responsibilities that go beyond delivering meals and toileting. They need salaries that reflect the real world; professional growth and a job description that gives them the time and incentive to do the tiniest things that mean so much to the people for whom they care. Θ

Carolyn Schultz Eggert writes from Newton. She has been working to improve the lives of older people for 10 years through her business, Family Friends Boston. Previously she was a reporter for People magazine. Questions? Please email her at Carolyneggert@yahoo.com.

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