“You are magic! You have dropped down from heaven to be here with me.” Those are the words I heard from an elder with Alzheimer’s a few weeks ago. I shared with my care team earlier in the day that I am doing aromatherapy research. We sampled a few essential oils on cotton balls during a short morning stand up meeting. Later a care team member came to me and asked to experiment with the oils to see if we could relieve agitation for a woman she was caring for. As I approached the elder, and asked permission to put a drop of lavender oil on a cotton ball to put in her pocket, she said those amazing words, “You are magic!” We held hands and talked for a few minutes….. that made my day!
When I do dementia training in a community, I usually do a full day of classroom instruction teaching an empathetic communication approach that is person-centered and elder-directed. For several days after the classroom training I live in the community, doing hands-on coaching and role modeling the methods. I am present on all 3 shifts, and I learn so much from the elders and the care teams. This is a reciprocal learning laboratory, with real life situations.
What warmed my heart that day was that the care team members were fully engaged as investigators, and solution finders. They had learned about the basic human needs as defined by Maslow, and how to identify unmet needs. They understood the power of touch, and being present. They had learned how to utilize empathetic speech, touch, and approaches. They were using the tools and tips that they had learned on that first day; recognizing that they had the ability to do critical thinking to determine ways to support and guide elders who are trying to find their way in a confusing world.
This work can be empowering to care team members!
- To have the opportunity to be instrumental in calming the unknown fears of an elder.
- To make a truly amazing connection with a 90 year old who feels alone.
- To recognize that the very nature of caregiving rituals: washing others, holding others, feeding others and dressing others – is intimate and sacred work that brings with it gifts of dignity, respect, intelligence, and kindness.
- To be so in touch with another person, that you are seen as a miracle – as a gift from heaven!
Today, I got an email from one of our communities with a note from a family, that said in part:
“Our prayers were answered! Your staff made our mother feel comfortable and loved from the moment she moved in. As her family we felt included throughout her stay. Thank you is not enough to express how appreciative we are to all of you for making her last months of her 89 years the easiest it could be as she transitioned to her heavenly home! Forever Grateful, the family. P.S. Keep making a difference for people who need you.”
This is good work, hard work, rewarding work. The world needs caregivers and leaders who are enthusiastically supporting families and elders and one another at the crescendo of an elder’s life as they prepare for their next great adventure. In our communities, we are guided by goodness, loyalty, faith, and fun. It is also important that we are guided by love for one another and for the work we are all called to do.
Love, Love, Love – All you need is Love – All you need is Love, Love. Love is all you need!
About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden
Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.