When it comes to deciding caring for an aging loved one at home or putting them in a nursing home or assisted living facility, it is easy to miss a couple of key points on the list of pros and cons. Those points revolve around one of the least-discussed strengths of in-home care and the corresponding weakness of professional care.
The Mandatory Caveat
Of course, it goes without saying that everything discussed below is an average of hundreds of thousands of incidents throughout the nation; there will always be exceptions to every generalized statement. Do not assume that every situation you come across fits these examples; however, a majority of cases will.
The Life of a Professional Caregiver
It is almost impossible to imagine what a full-time caregiver of the elderly deals with on a daily basis. Consider, however, that in a nursing home, it is normal for several people in that home to have levels of physical disability that require them to call for assistance whenever they need to use the bathroom, get dressed, or eat.
It is also normal for several people in that home to suffer from varying degrees of mental disability that leave them confused, unable to solve even basic everyday problems, or unable to recognize people or places.
It is also normal for several people in that home to suffer from varying degrees of emotional disability that render them inconsolably terrified, irascibly angry, or completely withdrawn. In such cases, it is not unusual for these patients to switch between extreme moods from moment to moment for no outwardly discernable reason.
To top it all off, statistically, it is fairly likely that at least a few people in that home are in two or even all three of the aforementioned categories at the same time. And of course, these conditions can spontaneously remiss or deteriorate independently or together, again for no discernable reason.
It is hard enough to keep up with just one individual who is dealing with these conditions on a daily basis. Being one of several people in a facility that are working together to provide care for dozens of individuals with these challenges, it becomes nearly impossible to keep up with the details of what each individual needs, wants and has. It is just too much information!
The Power of Focus
When you become a family caregiver, you generally start learning the medical side of your honored elder’s condition from near-zero. It is often a daunting mountain of information to absorb and translate into action, and at first glance, it seems reasonable to believe that professionals in a nursing facility can care for your aging loved one more effectively than you can.
This, however, discounts a simple and profoundly easy-to-overlook fact; you have the power to pay attention to your patient in a way that a professional who is bouncing between dozens of patients a day cannot. You might not have the breadth of healthcare knowledge that a professional caregiver starts the day with, but you can (and should!) learn what diagnoses your loved one has and study them extensively.
Between your ability to pay attention and your ability to focus on learning exclusively the details of your single patient’s condition and lifestyle, you can learn to provide care for them in a way that is almost impossible to find elsewhere.
Do not stop with official sources, however. There are support groups (if not in your city, then online) for nearly every conceivable diagnosis faced by elder caregivers throughout the country. Consider joining one (or more) of these groups, asking all the questions you need answered, and receiving the support you need. A community of experienced caregivers will help you receive insights that you might never receive from a general practitioner.
Focus and Knowledge Leads to Empathy
The tipping point in the life of a family caregiver is the moment that their personal understanding of the patient, their intellectual knowledge obtained by reading and asking questions to their support group, and their emotional commitment to their honored elder’s well-being coalesce. The moment they realize that they know enough about what motivates, challenges, and threatens their loved one to step into their shoes and understand what they are going through.
That moment is one of the crown jewels of being a dedicated home caregiver to a single beloved patient. It will not magically un-exhaust you or refill a budget stretched overly thin, but it will help you provide much better care, and it will help you to want to keep providing better care. And that is why learning empathy is the single most powerful force in elder care.