Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – a quality that is essential for anyone who in caring for others. However, in this modern world it has become too easy to lose sight of other people’s feeling.

Neuroscience research has shown that 98% of people are fully capable of exhibiting empathy, a in-built ability to understand other people’s emotions and perspectives. Empathy is important, especially when caring for people, as it help people build trust, reduces anxiety and restores dignity.

When a person is going through a difficult time, having an empathetic person supporting you can make a world of difference to your mentality and painful feelings. If you were to suppress or try to ignore those negative feelings, they would eventually pent up and grow and empathy from another person would stop that from happening.

Empathy is an expression of non-judgemental connection with another person – it is not that you can do by yourself and is exactly why human interaction, at any age is so important.

The issue, today, is that people are not living up to their full empathetic potential. Imagine you are walking and you see an elderly lady struggling to cross the road with her walker – would you give her much thought? Help her cross? Or just keep walking and go on with your day?

This is just an everyday example, imagine how important it is for carers to exhibit empathy and compassion as they care for the elderly.

Have we lost empathy as we care for elderly patients?

With people living longer than previous generations the demand for aged care is growing, however the amount of workers and staff is not growing at an equally increasing rate. To manage the pressure to be efficient, empathy can often take a back seat when it comes to care.

Aged care professionals generally have the ability to show compassion, but with the demands and pressure of the work environment this can be overlooked either consciously or subconsciously.

Something possibilities include:

  • Pressures to be time conscious and efficient
  • Need to work quickly is exacerbated by the demand for productivity
  • There is little to no training in the art of listening

Is empathy something that is innately bred in us, or is it something that we can learn? Health professionals need to be technically competent, but they also need to demonstrate that they can empower and soothe others emotionally. One is not more important than the other, even the most simplest tasks require some sensitivity. To work in aged care, you need the right balance of skill and ability to show compassion and empathy for those you care for.

If empathy can be trained, how so?

Because the vast majority of people are able to feel and show compassion, it means that almost anyone can learn to be more empathetic – similar to riding a bike. Perhaps it comes back to the individual organisation and how much they nurture, train and educate their own staff on how to know only be skilled and knowledgeable but also empathetic.

This may seem simple, but it’s the difference between an aged care professional being mediocre or being excellent.

  • Answer is in role modelling – learning how skillful carers and nurses interact with patients and their families.
  • Having someone you can emulate with the right compassion and empathy can teach you more than any book.
  • Maximise eye or hand contact with patients without interruptions – important for earning trust
  • Being present and in tune with the person you are caring for.
  • Composure and willingness to work with the family and the patient.
  • Taking a little more time and effort – only just a little – can seem like a huge deal to a grateful patient and their family.
  • It is important to teach carers how to listen and treat patients with the respect and dignity they deserve.

A good test to determine a person’s social intelligence was devised by Neuropsychologist Simon Baron-Cohen called “Reading the Mind in the Eyes”. In the test the subject is shown 36 pairs of eyes and determining what the image is expressing.

Take THIS TEST, which is based on Baron-Cohen’s research, and see what result you get.

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