Empathy. The word that has been my Mantra since I became a caregiver ten years ago. I wanted it to be the first word on our first blog - “our blog” because this is as much about me as it is you who’s reading this, at this moment. It’ll be a blog about my experiences and yours, and hopefully we’ll develop a relationship over time that makes the caregiving experience a comfort and provides peace of mind not just to those receiving care, but their family members and those providing care as well.
It encompasses the many complex layers in any one persons life, especially the aging. How can you be more empathetic to your client as a caregiver? As a family member, how can you be empathetic to the different layers of commitment of your siblings? As a caregiver, how can you be empathetic to the family members who’re dealing with emotional and financial changes?
Who is a caregiver? The dictionary definition is a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person. In my opinion though, it encompasses much more than just “looking after” the said demographics. It’s a physical job - you clean, cook, drive etc. It’s an emotional job - a lot of the time you find yourself being the constant assurance and emotional strength of the said person and their family. It’s a psychological job - you go through the ups and downs of people you have gotten attached to as they go through their health journey. Who takes care of the caregiver and their stresses while they’re busy caring for others?
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Cognitive empathy is the ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Cognitive empathy is the ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. This is an especially important aspect of caregiving since those we take care of sometimes cannot verbally state their needs, wants, pains and even changes in medical conditions. It is therefore up to us as caregivers to be intuitive enough to catch non verbal cues through observation (e.g darkening of urine or increased confusion might indicate the presence of a UTI) and to take the necessary measures. It is also important to be intuitive and proactive as a precautionary measure - many diseases are preventable - such as by monitoring water intake and constant hygiene checks for UTI prevention.
Empathy, unfortunately, is not an innate gift for all. Fortunately, science proves that it can be taught, and as such it can be learnt. This is good news all around since it’s such an important tenet of caregiving. The most effective way of exercising empathy, in my experience, is not always comfortable. I have had, at times, to remind myself that it is not about me at that moment. The room might be warm to me - but is it warm enough for the client that I’m assisting to take a shower? I might have reminded the client that their son was visiting them on Saturday about 60 times by 10am that day - what is one more time? The joy in their face when they hear it one more time, each time anew, is a gift to me because that excitement is actually infectious. At that moment, I’m actually making that persons day a bit better, the sun shining a bit brighter.
I know you’ve caught on already, but I’m driving at the patience that goes hand in hand with empathy. The learning to appreciate the human spirit and emotions through someone else, over and over again. The renewal of gratitude on the small day to day abilities that we might one day have, or maybe not.
Empathy is not always a smooth or comfortable ride - but with the right outlook on life and with the right attitude, understanding and goals - it becomes second nature on the day to day life of any caregiver - whether a family member or employed. I’m a firm believer in the universe giving back to us what we put out. I treat everyone I encounter as I would like to be treated. I am not perfect by any measure, but I try to live everyday of my life as empathetic to everyone I encounter as I can be.
Do you ever wonder what your life will be like at 90? What your physical abilities or limitations would be? What your verbal abilities or limitations would be? Who would you want to be taking care of you? What things do you enjoy now that you would love to keep at, even at that time?
My name is Keziah. I am a caregiver and Founder at Empathy Algorithm. Together, we will unravel the seemingly arduous multicarsal maze - taking care of our loved ones, one article at a time. Who knows.... maybe you’ll get to read about some of the most interesting stories from people I’ve gotten to meet over time! That’s one of the biggest perks of being a caregiver. I get to time travel to my client’s youth! How cool is that? Please subscribe so that you can get weekly updates of new blog posts!