Occasionally I pull up a chair to sit with the residents in the hallway, chatting and watching the passersby. One thing I’ve noticed is the vast difference in perspective between eye level and viewing from above. This difference becomes most shockingly clear when the aides wheel the shower chair, with their naked charges covered only by a sheet, to and from the shower room. What may appear to be a completely concealed individual from the perspective of the aide, is often all-too-revealing for those seated in the halls. Similarly, an unwanted light left on by a staff member is no trouble for someone able to walk around the bed to pull the light cord, but can be a difficult and frequently impossible task for a person in a wheelchair. If we take the time to put ourselves in a resident’s position, either literally or figuratively, we often find situations look entirely different, and we can act accordingly.
I recently heard from another blogger, Steve Gurney, who’s made a career of referring older adults to assisted living residences. He decided to take some time to live in a few of these places himself, to see what things might be like from the perspective of a resident. You can follow his journey at www.everyoneisaging.com. While you’re there, check out the link in the right column, under New and Interesting Sites, called Ben Cornwaite Nursing Home Immersion. It details the experience of a nursing home administrator who briefly lived in his nursing home, and the changes he implemented as a result of his experiment.
13 thoughts on “Walk a Mile in Their Moccasins”
though i don’t get the moccasin ref. i love this post and the two other recent one; the nail poish and the knocking. you’re really consistent now, and i like the variety of subject and agenda, and style, while you manage to stick to your warm but professional persona that you’ve developed. cheers see ya lata.
J — There’s a Native American saying about how you can’t understand another person until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, or moccasins. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for the encouragement. –E
I so love this post. I was doing my volunteer work yesterday at a local nursing home. One thing just really got me. When I arrived, the CNA kept saying ‘honey, hun…’ multiple times to the 52 year old MS resident I visit. She is very crippled but has an incredibly sharp mind and a sense of dignity. I thought it was very condescending. What do you think?
You bring up an interesting point, which is that what might seem condescending to one person might not seem so to another. In the situation you described, I’d say it depends on the relationship between the aide and the resident. I once heard what appeared to be a very condescending manner with a resident, but when I questioned the resident about it, she said, “that’s just how that aide is — she calls everyone ‘honey.'” I think it’s a safe bet, though, to err on the side of referring to residents as Mr. or Ms., unless you’ve established with them that it’s okay to be less formal.
I agree with your response to Dale. I’d like to add that I do not recall, ever, feeling a staff member was using a term of endearment intentionally to be condescending. Perhaps, it is a way for some staff members to put a resident at ease or to convey a sense of warmness/familiarity or as already mentioned, “she calls everyone honey.” However, if the resident doesn’t mind, does that mean it’s okay? This is one of my pet peeves (you know I have a few) that I have been wrestling with. I believe the reason why these seemingly kind words often come off to sounding as if someone is scratching their nails across a chalkboard to me, is because of the lack of respect they convey. I, personally, was brought up that we should address our elders and others (other than children), formally, by title and surname, and if agreeable, by first name.
I just found your blog and am so moved with your genuine kindness and sensitivity. I’m a caregiver for my little mother who has Alzheimer’s. She remains in her home and I was searching for a blog for caregivers when I found yours. Do any blogs come to mind?
I think it’s a great idea for caretakers to get support for themselves. It can make the caregiving journey better for everyone involved. The new old age blog (listed in the right column of my blog) has a resource section for caregivers. You can also check out what I have posted under “related blogs.” If they aren’t what you’re looking for, then look in their blogrolls until you find what you need.
Kind of off topic, but not really. I read somewhere that an elementary school in Minnesota has tall desks and stools for the children. They can either sit on the stool or stand at their desk. The ability to change positions has really helped the kids to concentrate. An added bonus is that the teacher does not have to stoop over to work with the students. I think it would be neat if someone could invent a safe wheelchair that allowed the person to sit at standing eye level.
I think having a safe, standing eye level wheelchair is a great idea. Maybe it could also lower to seating level when the individual wants to sit with other people in chairs. Any inventors reading this blog?
One of the best training tools for new caregivers is have them walk in their residents shoes for a few hours. Have someone else brush your teeth, for example. Let another caregiver help you get dressed or or comb or brush your hair. Navigate in a wheelchair for a few hours. Sometimes caregivers tend to forget how it’s like as a resident. We need to put ourselves in their shoes sometimes to get a better grasp of how to relate to them on a more individual basis.
You’re right, Gary, most of us who are not living in nursing homes have forgotten what it’s like to have someone help us with the basic necessities of life. Your training suggestions are good ones, but if we’re not able to do those, even a trip to the hairdresser can give us a small reminder of the experience. Are we rushed, or given the time we need? Are we made to feel special, or is the stylist talking to other people while taking care of us? Are we poked with the hair clips, or is care taken with our comfort? It’s these small touches that make such a big difference in long term care. It’s why one resident said to me, quite poetically, “Some aides are angels sent from Heaven, and others are from Hell.”
i’ve thought that you must get a crick in your neck having to look up at people talking to you all the time.
BTW, I’ve only read a few entries, but I love your blog. Sue S. referred me.
I welcome friends of Sue S. Glad you like the blog.
Perhaps some residents, massage therapists, or rehab people can tell us whether or not those in wheelchairs are getting neck cricks from looking up so often.