The Power of Respect

Seeing someone as more than their medical diagnosis

Who are you, and what defines you—is it your career, family, or heritage? Do you still have a spring in your step, or do you move a little slower? What about those lines of wisdom on your face—do you celebrate them? Life at 25 years old is often different from how you experience it at 85 years old. Especially as you age, you want to be around people who care about you, listen to you, understand what you’ve been through, and treat you with respect. “Many people fear aging,” says Elizabeth, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care for over 16 years. She’s cared for patients who are recovering from a stroke and residents who live with dementia. “Each person comes through the door with a lifetime of stories. They also worry about being vulnerable and isolated,” Elizabeth said. “I learn as much as I can about someone’s background, family, interests and preferences,” she adds. Sometimes it takes a while for someone to talk about their past. Others make it very clear they do not want to revisit or disclose personal details about their life. “Some members have survived trauma, others have lived a very sheltered life. With Holocaust Survivors, for example, I’m especially mindful of my words and actions. A lab coat or sudden noise can be a trigger and transport someone to a terrible time or place.” Elizabeth stresses that listening carefully, noticing body language, being kind and calling someone by their preferred name are simple signs of respect that can make all the difference in how someone feels. “All of my patients and residents are much more than their medical diagnosis,” she adds. When Elizabeth learned her patient, David, loves art, she encouraged him to join the art therapy group.

Elizabeth also gave the 78-year-old colored pencils and a sketchbook. Some of the drawings shed light on David’s life. He had been an electrician by day and a singing waiter at night. When he doesn’t want to bathe or exercise, Elizabeth plays show tunes. David belts them out and stretches his arms. Music continues to inspire him, even as dementia robs his memory. Mary’s story is a little different. Her husband, Joe, received aggressive physical therapy and long-term care at Menorah Center. Mary visited so often that people thought she worked there. Eventually, her COPD worsened, and she turned to Menorah Center for long-term care. Mary already felt connected to Menorah Center. Now she lives there—where she feels cared for, respected, safe and at home. “It’s what we all want and deserve,” says Elizabeth.

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