Attention, Determination, & Compassion: Thoughts on Care Management from Bridgeway’s Karen Rosenberg
Human connection. It calls for attention, determination and, above all else, compassion. Seeing individuals beyond the physical body — acknowledging the depth and beauty within every human being — can be challenged by the process of aging and disease, which often present similarly and simultaneously. Is it dementia, or forgetfulness? Is a change in cognition a sign of decline, or the result of an underlying physical condition? Is newly discovered pain a sign of aging, or the revelation of a chronic disease?
Complex and varied, each person reflects a unique puzzle. Just as a puzzle requires time, effort, and strategy, so do people. Every set of circumstances invites different strategies for coping. In the context of word puzzles, broad metaphors can be used to illustrate the process of aging and disease.
A crossword puzzle offers clues that require thought and reflection to solve. A word jumble necessitates the skill to sort and organize into sensible answers. Word search puzzles provide answers, yet compel attention and focus to find them. Just as employing strategy helps to solve puzzles, navigating the myriad issues that come with aging and illness requires similar skills.
To truly be with another human being means to engage: to look into their eyes, to touch them, to hear them. Meaningful connection requires patience and understanding rather than placating. Whether compromised physically or mentally, connection will be undermined when a person feels condescended to, and thereby dismissed. Such lack of sensitivity, intended or not, results in a sense of invisibility that generates sadness and further decline.
When faced with the challenges of caring for someone with dementia, the puzzle can seem elusive. Moments of coherence can be misleading when they last only briefly and become repetitive patterns. Each moment of clarity reveals a glimmer of the person who once was; such fleeting lucidity can leave the person beholding it feeling powerless to affect change. Similar to a word jumble, the caregiver is expected to take information, sort it, and make sense of it. Depending on the degree of cognitive compromise, it may not be possible to find a coherent narrative within which to engage.
The puzzle looks different when it involves physical decline, especially when cognition is intact. The caregiver of someone experiencing physical challenges must summon empathy rather than sympathy, empowering the patient with shared understanding rather than demoralize with pity. A delicate balance, to be sure, and achievable with practice.
Each situation represents a new opportunity for connection. To learn new information, nurture a unique relationship, create previously unsought outcomes. Daunting at times, some puzzles can feel more overwhelming than others. Patience, kindness, and understanding —- both toward oneself and the person being helped — emerge as the requisite attributes to serve the well being and comfort of everyone.
About the Author
Karen Gordon Rosenberg has been a member of the Bridgeway team for 3 years. With an extensive background in gerontology and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan, Karen’s career has focused on the Detroit Jewish community, working with older adults and collaborating with professional and lay leaders in the community. Working in a congregate housing for older adults, Karen focused on achieving maximum well-being for residents while enabling them to age in place independently. This included helping families cope with the stress of caregiving for their aging loved ones. While addressing the needs of multi-generational families, Karen developed a depth and breadth of knowledge of valuable resources in the community. Helping people thrive by connecting them to the appropriate support systems continues to fulfill Karen both personally and professionally. Karen is devoted to her family, taking an active role in the lives of her four growing children. She takes pride in her volunteer work as a parent at school, an active member of her synagogue, and an advocate for her neighborhood. Commitment to her daily yoga practice helps her to maintain balance while nourishing body and mind.