One of us cared for a gentleman who lived in the dementia unit and had a special place in his caregiver’s heart. He believed he was the owner, and he would tell staff he had the authority to send them home for the day. His caregiver loved talking with him. One day he grabbed his caregiver’s hand, looked right into her eyes and said, “God.” He wanted to pray together, and they did. It was a very human connection.

The other author cared for a man in a nursing home who was told he didn’t have much longer to live. He and his caregiver grew close. She asked him: If he could have one wish, what would it be? He answered, “one more dance with my wife.” It was arranged at the residents’ New Year’s party. When he was brought down to the community room where his wife was waiting, he said, “Can I have this dance?” The look on her face — and the sight of their getting to have one last dance together — was priceless.

Those are just two of the life-changing moments we’ve experienced working in professional senior care.

For us and thousands of others across Minnesota who have chosen senior care as a career, every day is focused on actions we take — big and little — to enrich elders’ lives. This includes everything from providing the care they need in the way they prefer to a special treat on a special day to a few moments just being with someone.

For those who experience caring for elders as a calling, gentle care and little gestures that make a big difference are what we strive to give every day. What we get in return is so much more: a smile, a thank you and oftentimes wisdom. We also receive the gift that all people seek in their human interactions — knowing that what you do matters.

The articles that have appeared in the Star Tribune about elder abuse break our hearts, as they break all true caregivers’ hearts. All seniors and their families need to know that these tragic incidents — some of which may be criminal — do not tell the real story about caregiving in Minnesota.

It shakes us to our core to hear of any instance when an elderly person was harmed, physically or emotionally, or exploited in some other way. It makes us sad and it makes us angry. Those elders were hurt by someone they placed trust in to care for them when their bodies or minds failed. When this harm is intentional, it needs to be punished, swiftly. Our elders deserve justice.

Our ultimate goal should be to prevent abuse in any form and in any setting. Increased training for caregivers, more frequent state surveys of new or underperforming care providers, and additional prevention steps need to be among the measures lawmakers consider. All stakeholders need to be involved in this discussion: elderly Minnesotans, their loved ones, professional caregivers, advocates and more.

Good communication with families of elderly people in our care is essential. Open conversations help us provide better care and provide families with confidence that their loved one is being cared for with love. When things don’t go as expected, we need to share what we know and listen to family members to provide better care.

When people are young, they don’t think about being vulnerable or depending on others. But we all need to think about this. We need to think “how would I like to be cared for when I am older?” and then provide that care.

In many ways, professional caregivers become like family to the elders we care for. We are there for them when they need help, day or night. Many times, we are there with them to the very end, holding their hands when they are leaving this world.

We’ve dedicated our lives to helping elders, as have thousands of other dedicated women and men throughout the state. This is what we love. This is our life’s calling. We want to be part of the conversation to ensure that all Minnesota seniors get the compassionate care and services they need to age well and with dignity.

 

Carli Lindemann, of Alexandria, Minn., and Monica Scheldrup, of Blackduck, Minn., are professional senior caregivers.