Assisting the Living: The Caregiver’s Role

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Assisting the Living: The Caregiver’s Role
by Sara L. Oliver

Sara L. Oliver has worked in the assisted living for over 10 years, particularly working with residents with Alzheimer’s Disease. Being a care giver for so many years, she has grown so many bonds with amazing people. “It’s a difficult field and it takes a special kind of person,” she says. “I am honored to be one of those special people.”

Caregivers are the people who care for loved ones from the beginning to the end of aging or disease. I am somewhat torn on assisted living care and caring for your loved one at home. In the world of the dying, it takes a very special person to be able to care for these people till the very end. Death is never an easy thing for anyone to deal with. Being a care giver for the last ten years has opened my eyes to the good and the bad of assisted living facilities.

Assisted living facilities can be amazing home-like places. They can have five-star rated food, daily housekeeping, activities and very pleasant outings. The problem with these high class assisted livings is the price. Not many people can afford them, especially with today’s economy. I have worked at places that cost four to five thousand dollars a month.  These facilities are private pay, which means they do not accept any kind of insurance or Medicaid.

The Medicaid facilities often look very run down. The food is good, but not five-star rated. There is daily housekeeping, but that does not help the run down look. There are activities, but not many, and usually there is only one outing each month. Because of the poor condition of these facilities, most people assume the facility is not a good place to live, or that the care provided is bad. Residents of the Medicaid facilities also have a higher chance of losing housing due to Medicaid cuts or holds. 

Luckily, facilities have an Ombudsman who is the advocate for residents within the assisted living facilities. Because of these advocates, no assisted living can put a resident out on the streets. The assisted living must let the resident stay, or help find other placement. Many assisted living facilities try to find ways around this, which is very sad and heartless. For so many assisted livings, it’s all about the money being made.

I have made a promise to my mom that she would NEVER be in an assisted living. Even a high-class assisted living. The reason behind this is not what most would expect.  It is not because the cost, or the quality of the assisted living. It is strictly because of the care that is provided. I have told her that I would accommodate the house accordingly to whatever would be needed during the time of her dying. I have accepted the fact that she will someday die, and it will be horribly tragic for me, though it does not matter, I will be the one to care for her to ensure she will be properly taken care of.

There are so many caregivers out there; it seems to be the easiest job for some people to get. I have also told the caregivers I have trained to treat these people with the respect and compassion they would want their loved ones to be treated with. I have worked with some truly amazing people who are extremely gifted caregivers. People that understand the residents they work with, understand their diseases, or are able to care for them during the resident’s final hours. People that have so much compassion in them, and love filling them, it pours out of them with a happiness that affects the resident in a very positive way.

Then there are the caregivers who do this because it is “just a job” for them. These are the care givers that tend to not be as patient, loving or respectful. These people are the reason that my mom will never go into an assisted living. I have worked with far too many of these people. These people tend to be neglectful of the residents they care for. They may not check the dying as much as they should, they may leave these residents in their own filth because they “don’t feel like changing them,” and would rather leave it for the next shift. These are the people who tend to raise their voices at the resident for nothing, sometimes even getting physically abusive.

Most other countries do not have assisted living facilities. It is the family’s responsibility to care for their aging or dying loved ones. The people who care for their loved ones take it as an honor that they were chosen to take care of an ailing parent. These ailing loved ones are treated with the most profound respect, and are extremely well taken care of. Our parents took care of us growing up, so why can’t we take care of them when they can no longer care for themselves? It’s great that we have these facilities when someone has no family to care for them, or when they are in a situation that can be harmful for them. Too many Americans rely too much on assisted livings. Why should anyone put their life on hold for a dying loved one when they have places that can do the caring for them? Too many times have I seen a family bring their loved one into a facility, set up their room and never come back to see them. These residents start recognizing staff as their family.  And it is usually the staff that is by their side when they die.

As a caregiver, I take it as an honor that this person was brought into my life. Caregivers hear the most amazing stories of life. The good caregivers tend to grow extremely strong bonds with their residents. And the daily life of death is hard on us as well. We do what we do so that the resident we care so much about can die peacefully and in comfort. We do what we do so these residents never have to die alone, and will never have to worry about leaving the burden of dying on their family. We do what we do because we have hearts filled with love and compassion, and we know that we are special people put here to provide the best care possible. To make sure these aging people live very happy lives till the end. To be with them when they are alone and feel like God has forgotten about them. To laugh with them, shed tears with them, and to make the most amazing memories with them. 

by Elizabeth Clark

Blessed are they who understand
my faltering step and shaking hand.
Blessed, who know my ears today
must strain to catch the things they say.
Blessed are they who seem to know
my eyes are dim and my mind is slow.
Blessed are they who looked away,
I spilled my tea on the cloth that day!
Blessed are they who, with cheery smile,
stopped to chat for a little while.
Blessed are they who know the way
to bring back memories of yesterday.
Blessed are they who never say,
“You’ve told that story twice today!”
Blessed are they who make it known
that I’m loved, respected and not alone.
And blessed are they who will ease the days
of my journey home, in loving ways.

Related Articles:

- Getting Loved Ones to Accept Assisted Living by Jacqueline Marcell
- Transition Issues for the Elderly and Their Families by Avrene Brandt
- Options for Retirement Living (Basic)

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