Achieving health and well-being is never a solo act. Throughout our lifetime, the people who are closest to us – our family and friends – are the greatest influence on our health. As we are on theirs. This is interdependence.
Far too often when the professional care system is involved, recognition of interdependence falls by the wayside. That’s too bad because neither family caregivers nor professional care providers can achieve well-being for people with chronic and complex diseases (the vast majority of heath-care interventions today) on their own.
This is especially critical when it comes to living well with disability and/or long-term health challenges such as dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart disease. Natural caregivers provide 80 per cent of care and need to be to seen as essential to the whole care process – assessing, planning, delivering and evaluating it.
When care is required over time, a new kind of relationship between professional care providers, caregivers and the person receiving care is needed. This relationship acknowledges the interdependence of everyone in the care circle. It requires professional providers to move from a relationship that is one-way – prescriptive, as in expert to patient – to one that is two-way – welcoming, inclusive and consultative.
I was given an example of what a truly consultative relationship looks like recently when an interior design consultant came to my home. She was curious. She wanted to know what my goals were. She listened carefully, asked lots of questions and made notes. Then she walked around, noting things like our style of furnishings and our colour preferences. Her expert eye had her asking questions about the amount of natural light, our capacity to do small renovations ourselves and future plans for the house. She took measurements. Then out of thousands of possibilities, she proposed some viable alternatives. We discussed pros and cons, prices and installation times. Together, we designed a customized plan and got started.
This designer did pretty much what I want my family’s health-care providers to do. Ask smart questions, learn about us and discuss possible solutions based on what they hear, see and assess is possible. But unlike a design consultation, a consultative approach related to our health is no luxury. The implementation and sustenance of sustainable, nourishing, life-giving care depends on it.
As caregivers, we have a central role. Professional providers need the expertise of those who know the person being cared for best. Regardless of their stature or busyness, we should expect all our providers (including specialists, physicians, home care aides, physical therapists, nurses, social workers, etc.,) to seek and respect our deep knowledge of the person being cared for.
Respectful consultation is a start. Then let’s create new caring partnerships, practices and policies that support the hands-on caring and emotional sustenance provided by natural caregivers throughout the healing journey.
When our interdependence is recognized, the maximum value of our freely-given natural care will be contributed and, most importantly, the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we love will be enhanced.
Vickie Cammack is a social innovator who has established ground-breaking organizations dedicated to strengthening community and addressing isolation, including Tyze Personal Networks, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and the Family Support Institute of British Columbia. Her unique response to the isolation and loneliness that underpins some of our most intractable social problems – a network model of care – has been adopted internationally. She is a member of the Order of Canada. She writes Caring Connections with Donna Thomson.
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