When we think of the word "home" it elicits more emotions and memories than any other word in the English language. Do we in Aging Services give enough consideration to the emotional impact that leaving home has on elders? Imagine leaving home and believing you will never return. Are we doing enough as caregivers to recognize and acknowledge the impact leaving home has on elders?
The Impact of Relocation
As we age, the need to relocate may occur several times. People may move from an established home of 40 years to a retirement community with desirable amenities or smaller quarters to reduce the burden of property upkeep. They may even move to be closer to family or a residential care facility. An important consideration for families and caregivers is the possible impact of relocation. What do we do to help?
Our natural responses could be: "It's OK, this is your new home" or "It just takes time to adjust." Many of us want to respond by giving advice, trying to cheer up our elderly family member, or changing the subject. We mean well, but these responses stifle communication and understanding things from another person’s viewpoint. No doubt, these are sincere efforts to comfort and reassure, but let's consider how we can take our compassion one step further by employing empathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes in order to imagine what they are going through, understand, and even share their feelings.
According to Stanford University graduate Ted Talker Mike Robbins, empathy is one of the most critical aspects of creating solid relationships, reducing stress, and enhancing emotional awareness.
His 2021 blog provides the following benefits of empathy:
- Benefits your health (less stress and less negativity which leads people to be in better shape with stronger immune systems)
- Leads to a happier life
- Improves communications skills
- Leads to teamwork
- Creates a healthy work environment
- Transcends personal relationships
- Decreases negativity
How to Overcome Transition issues with Empathy
- Ask yourself how you would feel if you were missing home (lonely, sad, scared?) and let yourself feel that for a few minutes.
- Now observe how the elders feel (angry, sad, worried) by active listening with no interruption.
- While it can be hard to fully grasp another person's point of view, respect that whatever they're experiencing matters.
- Then let the person know you understand what was said, for example, "I understand that you are very angry about having to suddenly leave your home" or "I can see that you are very worried about who is taking care of your house while you are away."
After acknowledging the feelings, you can then continue by validating, "It must be hard to miss your cat so much." Giving your care partner the time to express feelings and then validating those feelings is the most helpful approach you can offer because you cannot change anything about the reality of the situation.
Can empathy be taught? Absolutely! Would your staff benefit from a deeper understanding of empathy?
About the author:
Julie joined the AGE-u-cate team in 2020 after working 31 years in nursing home operations. Starting in social services and admissions, she moved into management and executive positions in 1990 after obtaining an Illinois nursing home administrator license. Her passion for dementia capable care came early in her career when she had the good fortune to work with and learn from culture change pioneers. Julie is also an adjunct instructor in Gerontology and Aging Services at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. She has two adult children and lives in the Northwest Chicago Suburb of Schaumburg with her husband and three fur babies. She is convinced that she was a lounge singer in a former life.