Not only is today the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, it’s the last day of an insanely challenging month. I had hoped on sneaking out of work early and possibly jumping on Parkway South, but my afternoon (and, subsequently, most of my evening) was spent otherwise: for about an hour before I clocked out, I spoke at length to one of my favorite residents regarding our hemorrhoids. Yes, our hemorrhoids. Hear me out…
This particular nonna is going through a difficult transition as she moves [reluctantly] from our assisted living into long term care. She’s the new kid on the block and just as she’s getting to know the staff, they’ve still got to get to know her. She tearfully explained that she’s been in excruciating pain and that her unfamiliar caregivers just don’t get it; there’s no way they understand how much it hurts. She’s probably right – they likely have no clue, and truthfully, neither do I. I do know, however, how powerful and important empathy can be.
The concept of empathy is generally implied to mean that an environment is created in which a person feels understood and accepted, due in part to the demonstration of kindness and warmth. It involves support, sharing, and acceptance, in turn helping others to feel understood and not alone. It fosters universality, or the idea that one’s problems are not unacceptable or entirely unique to them. Empathy squashes labels and depresses stigmas.
Stigmatization of things like dementia (and obvi hemorrhoids) can foster judgment. Even worse, it can impact attitude and, as a result, care. My now great friend and I still laugh about our early days together at my first assisted living job. We had a particularly worrisome nonna who would constantly fret over things like her bowel movements and the corns on her feet. To comfort her, I’d share my own experiences and assure her we were in this together and that we’d both feel better soon. Barely knowing one another at that point, Kaitlyn turned to me and said, “Do you even know what corns are? Do you actually have them?!” I admittedly did not, but pretending I did led to instant relief for our frequent visitor.
Interpersonal relationships are important because our own self-concept is defined by others and what info we get about ourselves from those connections. Simply put, the way we view ourselves is based in part on how we believe other people perceive us. Having a sore on your rectum is not only painful, it’s embarrassing! My nonna wasn’t seeking physical assistance from me tonight, but she did need some emotional validation and support. She was eager to know she was not alone and that her pain was understood.
Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and treat them accordingly. Disregard the stigmas and lose the labels. Tell a *therapeutic fib* or two if fitting, even if you feel embarrassed. Dementia, like my AL, is a judgment free zone; all conditions (both real and imagined) accepted.