At 53 I dont think of myself as old – most days! But yesterday, when I ordered tea and toast at my local cafe, the lovely, crusty bloomer slices that arrived gave me cause to reconsider. You see I simply couldnt eat them without first dipping them in my tea!!! The youthful ease with which I could chew through anything presented to me on a plate had gone!
What’s my point?
Getting older sometimes pushes me out of my comfort zone, and so does working with older people as a support planner. In my professional life in mental health I have never worked with older people but the support planning training I am receiving does not include support planning for people with mental health needs (more of that in a later post!) During my training, therefore, the client base I work with consists of older people, people with learning disabilities, and people with physical disabilities. Absolutely nothing wrong with that – its just not what I am used to.
The first client I was assigned was an 80 year old lady with early symptoms of dementia who could not speak a word of english – let me tell you – I wasnt just out of my comfort zone – my comfort zone left the building!!!!! But comfort zones are for cowards, right!!! So I strode head on into the challenge.
I would love to hear from anyone else who is finding that support planning is stretching them. I would love to hear from people who have experience with older people as well because I could really use the advice.
Firstly, it was a challenge because the language barrier meant it was only the daughter I spoke with, and that owing to cognitive difficulties the client did not communicate at all. Usually that would have been ok – the daughter would have articulated her mothers needs. But in this case the daughter informed me very early on that, “we are a distant, disconnected, and dysfunctional family” – a statement that appeared to be borne out by the somewhat chilly atmosphere between mother and daughter. Also what seemed like her desire to choose a personal budget package requiring she have only the minimum of responsibility for her mother’s care rather than one that truly met her mothers support needs.
Now, I helped nurse my mother through the years in which she deteriorated with vascular dementia. I know first hand the heartbreak and burn-out of looking after a sick and ageing parent. So I don’t judge a family that is experiencing the difficulties this brings on. I am simply stating that it can be a challenge for a support planner to work with a family where burn-out and sometimes resentment has occurred. It can blur the family’s focus and make it difficult for them to see how important it is to ensure that the personal budget package they choose is the one best suited to meet their parents support needs even if it means continued involvement on their part.
The next challenge is that I am not a social worker. I am realising just what a difficult job they have. I am not used to meeting with clients in their homes, family contexts, and having to be alert to safeguarding issues there. In other words, I am not used to having to find the delicate balance between helping the client and not pissing off the family!!!! I have already had to raise a couple of safeguarding issues with my manager, and then figure out how to diplomaticaly suggest ways of addressing them to the family – wow – way out of my comfort zone there!!
I guess I was under the misguided opinion that no matter what – a family would always do whatever it took to meet the needs of their ageing parents and be willing allies in the process of providing them with the best support on offer. DUH! I was wrong. Its a complicated world out there with all sorts of wierd and wonderful family dynamics going on behind closed doors. One could perhaps go as far as saying its a bit “through the looking glass”!!!!
The good news is that I have had my third visit with this family and not only am I getting much more comfortable out of my comfort zone but things are gradually improving and we seem to be making progress toward choosing the package mum really needs to have put in place.
I say again “you live and learn”