After college I worked as a Certified Nurse Aide at a local Assisted Living working with primarily residents that had memory deterioration. It was rewarding to see them smile and get them to participate in activities. However, it was hard work. I was 21 and had never worked a “physical” job and this most definitely was that. After each client I helped transfer and change them into their daytime outfit, I had to take a few minutes of rest. Often you would catch me sitting on a bed or a chair looking on while the resident finished brushing their teeth. It was not something I should have done but, I did. I went hopping about for 2 hours each morning trying to get 7-8 people ready for the day, with a few minutes rest in between. After breakfast and again after lunch there were trips to the bathroom for toileting and/or showers. Anytime in between you would catch me trying to do activities and rest.
Many times, family members and friends would visit residents in the daytime hours. Daughters would come in and hug mom, look at me and ask “hey, do you know where Mom’s glasses are?” We (the caregivers) would look at each other and one of us would run to the room praying that we had simply left them on the nightstand. It was often like that; hearing aids, glasses, dentures and other personal items would be overlooked in the process of trying to get one ready in the morning. So what’s the problem with that?
Fast forward 10 years and here I am the daughter (or actually granddaughter) showing up to another (similar) assisted facility asking “Why is her hair not brushed? Where are her dentures? Where are her glasses?” It is so wild how times will change you. It is so strange when you are on the other side. Despite the fact that I myself was in the shoes of those young ladies not so long ago, I cannot understand how one can forget to simply “care” for the person each morning as they get them ready. I know, I know I am hypocritical. Something has changed though, as I have now spent 10 years in Long term Care, I now realize how important the small things truly are. While an aging parent may not be going anywhere in particular, is it necessary we treat them like that? When we are simply going to the grocery store, don’t we at the least put on our glasses? Brush our hair? Does this person, this mother, this grandfather not desire and wish the same for themselves? Trust me, they do.
Last week I visited my grandmother and she was sitting in the living room wrapped up in a blanket, hair tousled and pale faced. I simply smiled at the workers standing nearby in the medication room. I rolled her down to the room, straightened her clothes, put on some lipstick and spread a little lotion on her hands. She smiled and whispered, “thank you.”
I can’t say I have come to complete resolve about the situation but I truly understand what people mean by “it’s different when it’s you (rs)” I know the caregivers that work with my Grace are well intentioned and show a lot of compassion towards her. Simply that line of work is mentally and physically demanding for not a lot of pay. However, if just a little more time and concern was given, those little moments would make big differences for the residents and their families.
As a manager over caregivers now, I try to emphasize how these small changes in attitude and care can be crucial to keeping a client happy and dignified at home.