Caregiver Don’t Go it Alone

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.

~ Epicurus


Aging in Place

Dropped off my vintage Landcruiser to get it worked on recently. When I picked it up, I got into a long conversation about the shop owner’s mother; this often happens to me wherever I go. Seems his 73-year-old mother is having some issues, and they are the usual suspects. Her husband died several years ago, and her family lives in the area but are all in that go-go phase of life, working and raising kids. They are on that slippery slope of “informal caregiver” mission creep. Mom has out-of-control diabetes, issues with medication management, beginning signs of cognitive decline, lives alone, is not comfortable with driving, and for now at least, the issues are not to the point of crisis intervention–but they are getting near that point. I could hear in the shop owner’s voice a sense of growing concern, and having no idea how to manage his mother’s increasing care needs.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand another person’s thoughts and feelings in a situation from their point of view, rather than your own. It differs from sympathy, where one is moved by the thoughts and feelings of another but maintains an emotional distance. There are 3 types of empathy according to

  1. Cognitive: “Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking. “If you imagine yourself in your friend’s shoes, you know she is likely to be feeling sad, as well as anxious because she relies on that income to pay her student loans. However, having only cognitive empathy keeps you at a distance from your friend. To truly connect with your friend, you need to share their feelings. This is where emotional empathy comes in.2. Emotional: “When you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.”

    This type of empathy can also extend to physical sensations, which is why we cringe when someone else stubs their toe. In this case, you would look inwards to identify a situation where you were similarly anxious about the future. The situation itself need not be identical, as each individual is different. What’s important is that the emotions resulting from the situation are the same.

    So, you’ve successfully understood what your friend is feeling, and put yourself in a similar emotional space. Now what? Well, you can use the insights gleaned from Cognitive and Emotional empathy to have Compassionate Empathy.

    3. Compassionate: “With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them but are spontaneously moved to help if needed.”

    It is the balance between Cognitive and Emotional Empathy that enables us to act without being overcome with feelings or jumping straight into a problem-solving process.

    I have been in the shop owner’s shoes, I know from experience the caregiver quicksand he’s about to step into. To do this blind is daunting, I made many mistakes, and as cliché as it sounds, I learned the hard way–and I’m a professional caregiver!

Our conversation haunted me as I drove home, this guy has no entry portal to the caregiving process, no experience, and the opportunity costs of learn-as-you-go, he can’t afford. He’s got small kids, runs his own business, and has five employees depending on him. This is a scenario facing millions of Americans–mostly women. It will be costly to the economy in time away from work, stress on family, and lost wages/retirement earnings.

My Follow-up Email to Him

Tony, our conversation is still resonating (haunting me truthfully). I have no affiliation with this group whatsoever, but it seems to me your mother could use a session or two with someone like a care manager…Just to get a game plan.
You guys will continue to go down that rough path of “crisis management” and it will have devastating effects on all of you, not just your mom.

And of course, there is my website for ideas.

Best, Patrick

Aging-Life-Care Management is a service of professionals who can manage elder care. I have no affiliation with this group, but this kind of service is well worth the investment. I tried to do it all myself with mixed results. If I was to do it over again, this is the FIRST PLACE I’D START…


Life Care Management

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