When working as a carer in the aged care sector, it’s important to have certain – and somewhat specific – personality traits or qualities.

One of these is empathy for the elderly.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their perspective – essentially the ability to relate to what another person feels. And going from understanding how they feel to acting up on it.

When caring for the elderly, it can be rather task oriented – feed, bath, change, wash – it almost reads like a checklist that a person simply cycles through.

But when empathy is brought into that, it really helps a carer connect with the resident.

For an aged care resident, living in a facility is a huge change. It’s new, different and very much not like living in the familiarity of their own home.

Though they are surrounded by other residents, carers and other staff – it’s still very easy to feel alone.

Sarina Russo

Social isolation is a real challenge for aged care residents, and should be a big concern for aged care staff and providers.

This is where empathy comes in – imagine you are the lonely resident. You may or may not get visitors every once in a while.

People you are not familiar with approach you to feed and bathe you.

They don’t really know you, and the only time they speak to you is to instruct you.

This is a reality for some residents – aged care is full of strangers to them.

In fact, the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, said that up to 40 per cent of aged care residents receive no visitors year round.

How would that make you feel? How would you treat someone who felt that way?

For those residents, the care and kindness of the aged care staff is the most human interaction they may get. So it’s vital to show empathy and connect with them.

Ask them a bit about themselves, or tell them a bit about you. Include them and share memories.

So how can you be more empathetic? Here are some tips:

  • Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the resident’s point of view.
  • Listen, really take note of what they are saying and validate their perspective.
  • Examine your attitude, do you need to alter or shift your mentality?
  • Ask what the resident would like to do, give them the opportunity to have their say and feel like they have some control.

Empathy is not necessarily something people are born with, it can be taught and trained. All it takes is a person to be open and willing to consider another person’s feelings.

Without empathy, people are not equipped to be good carers or employees in the aged care industry. After all, the key there is the ability to care for Australia’s vulnerable elderly.

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