What would life be like if you stepped into the world of a resident in long-term care? Perhaps it would awaken us to the fact that they see things much differently than we do. Maybe it would make us understand their experiences, challenges, and thought processes. Do you think that we might be more empathetic? Gosh, I hope so.
Let's look at what being a resident for a day might teach us.
Waking up to a room that is not "mine" is frightening. It reminds me that I'm not in my home anymore where I felt secure and loved.
No one ever referred to me as honey. I don't like to be called honey. I have a name - one that I've had all my life. Please call me by my REAL name!
Those loud noises scare the daylights out of me! I've never liked sirens, and I feel like that's all I hear - ALL day long.
Contrary to what you may believe, getting naked and having someone help me bathe myself is not normal. I feel like I'm on display. Yes, it makes me anxious and this is sometimes why I just don't want to take a shower!
For that matter, having someone change my diapers is about 10 times more embarrassing as getting naked.
Eating with people I don't know is not my idea of enjoying a meal. Where's my glass of wine? And goodness sakes, I've never liked peas and not about to start liking them now. So please, dear, don't ask me to finish up my vegetables. It's not going to happen.
Don't take this personally, but all these activities won't make me less bored. What would make me less bored is being able to do something I actually enjoy - like tending a garden or some ballroom dancing or designing bridges as I did in my career. Now, these are things I still LOVE to do. I don't like playing bingo. I'll never like playing bingo. Not EVER.
Now that you see the world through a different lens, can you see what being a resident for a day might teach us?
It will help us understand the feelings of emptiness and loss they are experiencing.
It might give us a perspective of dignity and how important that is to what makes us feel whole and complete.
Perhaps it will open our eyes to the fact that, despite their frailty, illness or state of mind, that they have interests, and it might not be anything like someone else's and that's okay. We just need to tap into what it is that makes them smile.
Maybe you will see that feeling secure and respected by their care partners can actually bring a new relationship that is meaningful for both of you.
Being a resident for a day may not be easy, but it will certainly open our eyes to empathy, understanding and new perspectives that will improve the care we deliver.
Pam Brandon is President and Founder of AGE-u-cate® Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them. She is the creator of the Dementia Live® simulation and awareness program and co-directed the development of the Compassionate Touch® skilled touch program, both being implemented by care provider internationally.