Today I want to talk to you about empathy, a word which is being used ever more frequently within the care industry. But what is empathy?
The dictionary defines it as:
‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of others’ and given the nature of the work that we all do, helping to support those in our care, this is an invaluable tool for us.
What’s got me really thinking about the value of empathy is that recently I had a personal experience which involved a business demonstrating empathy to me in a truly brilliant way.
I was in hospital having a pre-op assessment for a procedure I was to have, and the nurse, a lovely welsh girl named Cheryl, who was completing my assessment - told me that she’d undergone the same operation the previous year.
I felt instantly reassured on learning this, just because she had such good insight into the procedure itself, how to prepare for it, getting over the anesthetic, after care hints and tips and how her experience could help me get through my op and recovery.
I honestly thought that it was such a great way that BMI Healthcare showed they were really empathizing with their patients, by effectively utilizing the personal experiences, skills and knowledge of their staff.
I’m a great believer in the expression – ‘never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’ and this is especially important in the job that I do working in the care industry
My experience helped to both clarify and galvanise the vision I have had for my business over the past two years, and that has been to add to our team someone who has had real experience of working in care homes to a senior level and who understands the environment, the pressures and has truly walked a mile in our customers shoes.
So I am delighted to welcome Lucy Lynch to our Hcsuk team, as our new Healthcare Solutions Manager. Lucy has 5 years experience working in care homes and has worked her way up from a caring role to Deputy Manager at her last home.
I firmly believe that Lucy will be a great asset to the both our business and to our customers as she will be able to empathise with situations and challenges and be able to provide practical solutions to your challenges.
There is one, very personal way, I’ve also been able to develop empathy for people who are living with a Dementia.
I’m fortunate enough that I still have my Mum with me, 98 last March, currently still living at home with Vascular Dementia . Helping to support Mum over the last few years has given me an incredible insight into some of the symptoms and behaviours of people living with Dementia. I have learned what works with Mum, what doesn’t and how to help her to be the best she can be. When other people might think of her behavior as ‘difficult’, I see it as a sign of some distress and work with her to overcome this.
Mum has been an inspiration to me and has led to write a guide to help people with a Dementia to eat better. She’s also been a tester for some of my products solutions which have worked really well with her. This enables me to confidently go out to my customers and say, “Yes I’ve tested this particular product personally with my mum, I know it works’
Mum is also in my head when I research and select the product solutions we provide – I always ask myself, ‘would this product be good enough for my Mum?’ – And it has to meet that criteria to make its way onto our range of solutions.
Recently I visited the Care and Dementia Show and took part in a virtual dementia tour. This again is something which has been designed purely to help you and I to walk a mile in the shoes of someone with a Dementia, to understand the challenges they face on a daily basis and therefore how the way that we work with them and how we interact with them can have a positive impact on the quality of their life and their behaviour.
As part of this experience I had to don weighted gloves and dark glasses with blacked out middle bits so I only had peripheral vision. We were given headphones to wear that had a lot of muffled background noise going on and we were then literally pushed into a room with dark red and strobe lighting which I found extremely disorienting. There were four of us in this room and I literally became a different person - I was anxious, I was shuffling, very unconfidently, around the room, I wanted to hold onto the sides and when a “Carer” came up to me and put her face very close to mine and asked me to do something meaningful I looked for something to do. I walked to the sink and tried to wash up some cutlery and crockery, and put it on the draining board, but as I placed the crockery carefully on the side the “carer” came and literally shoved it back into the sank. I then thought I could walk through into another room so I tried to push open, what I thought was a door, and a really loud alarm sounded, which really shocked me and all I wanted to do was sit down so that I’d feel safe.
I emerged from the experience feeling anxious and a little shaky, however I was pleased I had completed it, because I really believe it gave me a greater insight into how it feels to live with a Dementia and has massively improved my experience in terms of how what my business does can impact the lives of people living with dementia. I will think about them differently, I think about Mum differently a little bit now too so it was really helpful for me.
Again it was trying to help us develop empathy for our customers, our residents and the people we support.
I also read an article in The Guardian recently about Sara Livedeas, CEO of The Freemantle Trust, who booked herself in to stay at one of her care homes one weekend. What better way is there to experience what your residents see, walk a mile in their shoes, interact with the staff, the environment and everything about the service you are providing?
Sara learned some valuable lessons around what she liked and didn’t like about the service, including that the television should be on less, and was able to create improvements as a result of her stay. What an insightful thing to do. I think we should do more of that.
So my question today is how do you develop empathy with your residents and the people that you support? When was the last time you walked in their shoes? I’d love to hear your comments, ideas and thoughts on this subject and how we could incorporate empathy more into the way we run our businesses so we can gain a better understanding of our residents and learn how we can serve them better.
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