By Eleanor Pineau
I recently had the absolute pleasure of interviewing a personal support worker (PSW for short) who has worked in home care, in assisted living, and in nursing homes. The kindness, love, and passion that emanated from her, was something so moving that it gave me hope and joy for the profession, and for older adults residing in nursing homes. Maryanne is a different kind of person and PSW. She is someone that sees the good in everyone, and even when residents spit, curse, or throw things at her, she remains devoted, loving, and compassionate. I am astounded and overjoyed by the love Maryanne exudes.
During our time, I asked Maryanne a couple of things:
Can you tell me in general, what you do for a living?
Maryanne is a PSW, and is currently working night shifts (11pm-7am) in a nursing home. Since it is night time, residents should be sleeping which leaves the PSWs time to do
laundry and make sure all supplies are in order such as towels, and personal hygiene products. Every 30 minutes, Maryanne will check on her 25 residents. She ensures everyone is safe, where they should be, and if they are incontinent (which means they do not have control over their bladder, and sometimes bowels), she will change and wash them. Just like when you care for a baby, you cannot leave them wet or they will get skin sores. All care is done using a “Gentle Care” approach which means taking your time with the resident, not rushing, communicating with the resident what you are doing, and most of all, giving the resident choice – empowering them – with what they want to do, how they want to do it, or what clothes they want to wear.
I then asked Maryanne,
How did you start on this career path or what made you choose to go into this industry?
“I always loved the elderly. Back home, when my grandmother got sick, I gave up my job to be with her.”
Maryanne says that caring for older adults is such a rewarding experiencing and that she gains personal gratification every day. She makes it her goal, to go into the nursing home, and make people happy. She jokes, plays, and talks with the residents whenever she can squeeze in some time in her busy schedule.
She also learns something every single day. Maybe not textbook knowledge, but real-life, applicable knowledge! Imagine that! Learning something from someone so old? (*sarcasm*)
Maryanne told me a couple of stories where she learned something from a resident:
“One lady said when you take the bus, always have something in your hands (like a book), so you keep busy and don’t get into trouble. Keep your hands busy! When you’re busy, you don’t think of sad thoughts, or pay attention to others. I also learned how to knit.”
The most opportune place to learn life lessons is in a facility that houses older adults. After all, they are the ones that have lived through war, famine, and a depression.
The next question went like this:
Tell me about your work with people who have dementia?
“When you’re working in a locked unit, which is the dementia unit, there’s no such thing as ‘routine’! They’re walking around, going through someone else’s room, and taking things from other residents, so you constantly must be manning the unit. All closets are locked too so people can’t get into other peoples’ things. They lie down on someone else’s bed, and we allow them to lie down there because some are tired from walking around the whole day and they don’t recognize it’s not their own bed. If you can redirect them to their own room, then of course we do that. But if it’s an aggressive person, then we let them lie down for a bit and come back later to redirect them.”
I think it is important to highlight that working with someone who has dementia can never be a routine. And this applies to all settings – in the home, in assisted living, in retirement homes, and in nursing homes. It is of utmost importance to be with the person, in that moment, when caring for someone with dementia. If they say someone is standing there (even though no one is), you agree and play along…as long as it’s not hurting them or someone else, and they’re not in danger. This is called Validation Therapy. It literally just means that you live in the moment, in their moment, all the time.
Maryanne also noted that everything needs to be individualized for each person with dementia. For example,
“One [resident] has a doll that she believes is her baby and that she is a new mother. When sitting in the living room, she gets agitated and starts rocking back and forth. But as soon as you give her the doll, she calms down. She really takes care of it. The doll, I think, gives her a sense of purpose and security.”
Caring for someone with dementia means you get to be a kid again. You get to experience their experiences, when they were 60, 43, 22, and even 6 years old. It is a privilege and an incredible experience to live someone else’s life and to learn, so intimately, about that person. When someone with dementia re-lives their teenage years, and you are using validation therapy, you get to be a teenager again too. Full of whit, life, joy, and without a care in the world. Remaining positive and upbeat when caring for someone with dementia makes the adventure of caring so much more fun and rewarding.
From this point of the interview, we can see what excellent care looks like. We can see that someone who is caring for an older person, with or without dementia, needs to show compassion, needs to be patient, needs to be understanding, and most of all, needs to love – regardless of profession. Maryanne is the best example I could have found for going above and beyond caring for older adults. She truly sets the best example for all PSWs, nurses, physicians, family caregivers, and all healthcare professionals, on how to care for someone.
Part 2 of “Who’s Caring for Mom” will be released shortly.
Photo from: http://www.nahb.ca/blog/tag/psw-courses