What Caregivers Know that Senior Living Providers Can Learn From


Nov 27, 2012 | Programming & Outreach

Adult children who are responsible for the health and well-being of an aging parent may frequently question their feelings. The number and sheer complexity of the decisions one faces when taking care of an elderly relative can be overwhelming. Where should my mother live? What’s the best kind of treatment for my husband with Alzheimer’s disease? How do I know when my parent can no longer care for themselves?

Experts say instincts can come in handy for those trying to determine whether a mother or father needs extra help taking care of themselves. This involves attention to the non-verbal communications—body language, facial expressions and habits. People know what’s normal for their parents. If things don’t seem right, it might be time to have a serious conversation about getting extra care.

In her article, Trusting Your Instincts: Why It’s Essential for Caregivers, author Anne-Marie Botek, discusses “going with your gut’— a common piece of advice that encourages us to tap into some of our most primitive and powerful instincts.

The “6th-sense” defined

Renee Trudeau, life coach and author, likens intuition to an internal GPS system. She says that most of us use our “internal knowingness” to make decisions every day—it just comes so naturally that we often don’t recognize when we use it.

Psychologists describe intuition as a synchronized mental assessment of past experiences, learned knowledge and current situational cues that results in the commonly-cited, “gut feeling,” or “sixth-sense.”

Says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author, “Intuition is not as magical or mysterious as it sounds. “It’s a mental tool that uses our perception of things that may not be otherwise obvious, such as someone’s facial expressions, pheromones, past behavior and ‘vibes’ to give us an impression we could not get on a rational level.”

A Mother’s Instincts Led to the Adoption of “Condition H”

In the hospital sector of healthcare, many hospitals have created a “Condition Help” or “Condition H” in the past decade to respond directly and urgently to the instinctive concerns of family members. Condition H developed out of a tragic scenario that played out at one of our nation’s best hospitals where a mother’s instinctive concerns about her 18-month daughter went unheeded by the hospital’s top medical professionals.

Says Jennifer Alcanter, R.N., P.C.C.N., clinical supervisor, at Providence Progressive Care Unit, “What we learn as nurses is that our patients know their bodies best”. “Their families know them better than we do too, and that’s why we are encouraging patients and their families to use Condition H. It’s a way to have their voices and concerns addressed.”

What does it mean to “trust your gut?” When taking care of a loved one, is it ever appropriate to rely on instinct alone? Ms. Botek offers the following guidance:

  • Learn as much as you can: The well-worn advice of making the best decision you can with the information you have speaks to the benefit of gathering as much information about a topic as you possibly can.
  • Listen to your body: Some people might find that going for a jog helps clear their mind and allow their intuition to surface. Others may need to sit quietly with themselves, turning their awareness inside using meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Stop second-guessing yourself: Says Ms. Tessina, “Second-guessing won’t do anything but paralyze you. “It will just make it that much harder to move on and trust in your ability to know what to do.”

Implications for Senior Living Communities:

  • Respond to caregivers’ concerns with valuable information about your solutions — When adult children have a “gut feeling” their parents are not able to cope effectively in their current environment, they are probably correct. It is incumbent upon senior living providers, particularly assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities, to effectively address these instinctive concerns with useful and easily accessible information on available programs and services that can meet the loved one’s needs and reduce the adult child’s anxiety.
  • Listen to your residents and their caregivers — As hospitals have learned, it is unwise to ignore or trivialize the feelings of family members about their loved one’s condition. Rather, it is an opportunity to demonstrate the caring, responsiveness and quality of your community. Even if the family’s concerns turn out to be a false alarm, it is an opportunity to elevate your image as a concerned and diligent provider.
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