The recent global pandemic saw people living in care homes abruptly separated from their families and loved ones, in an effort to keep them safe and reduce transmission of Covid. Following months of separation from their support systems, the trauma and detrimental effect for people living in care has become evident and highlights the important role that family play as essential partners in care.
When reflecting on the important role of family as care partners, it brings to mind my family’s experience with my grandmother. When my grandmother first started to show signs of dementia, my mother and aunt mentioned this to her treating medical team while she was in hospital having her heart valve replaced. My grandmother was Italian, and while she spoke good English, occasional miscommunication could often be perceived as a language issue. At the time, my mother and aunt were treated with great suspicion, and mum commented at the time that they seemed to think she must be after nanna’s money. That was the furthest thought from their minds. They had in fact noticed that nanna had wasn’t remembering things and was repeating herself, as well as becoming quite confused. Things she was saying in both English and Italian were not making sense and they were worried, particularly with her living alone.
Nanna was widowed after living in Australia after only a couple of years and needed support to understand letters and legal matters. Her daughters had been providing this support for most of their lives. Like most family carers, they were naturally the first to notice changes when she developed dementia. Fortunately, my mother and aunt were able to have nanna assessed by an Italian speaking geriatrician who diagnosed Alzheimer’s Disease and nanna commenced on medication which slowed the progression of her dementia for a time.
My mother and aunt’s caregiving role continued for the rest of nanna’s life. Their contribution was significant in so many ways. They supported nanna as she transitioned from living in her own home, to living with my aunt and then moving to residential care. They assisted her with medical appointments, managing her finances, making sure she had the things which were important to her like her jewellery, clothing and toiletries. They took her shopping and kept her connected with her family and friends. They went to her when called in the middle of the night as she was distressed and reliving personal trauma experiences of WWII.
They did this out of love. No price can be put on how valuable family representatives can be as essential care partners. They are so much more than visitors. They ensure physical and emotional well-being for the person being cared for, which in turn also ensures staff safety. They facilitate communication and understanding within the care team and for the person being cared for. Thankyou to all the family care partners out there.