Compassionate care provides elderly patients with the assurance that their conditions and concerns are not only heard but also recognised and addressed. The essence of compassionate care lies in understanding others’ worries, building meaningful relationships, and responding with empathy. This approach is pivotal for maintaining high-quality elderly care and is an indispensable element of patient-centered healthcare. However, with the widespread adoption of electronic medical records, patients are often reduced to mere numbers. Long term care providers spend more time staring at computer screens than engaging with patients face-to-face. This technological shift has led to a diminishing focus on personal connections, raising concerns about a trust deficit between patients and healthcare professionals. This situation underscores a compassion crisis in aged care, prompting us to contemplate the genuine impact of compassionate care on the overall healthcare experience.
As social gerontologists, drawing from our experience within senior care facilities, this article delves into the benefits of compassionate care. It emphasises its positive influence on patient outcomes, the improvement of professionals’ (doctors, nurses, paramedics) engagement with patients and families, the adept identification of their needs, and the application of suitable approaches. Recognising the diverse standards in long-term care facilities, some excel with ample staffing, profound understanding, and a passionate commitment to excellent care. Regrettably, others grapple with understaffing due to management prioritising profits over quality care. Our direct observations underscore that a significant portion of individuals in these facilities are motivated by compassion and a sincere dedication to residents. Without a doubt, we staunchly advocate for the pivotal role of compassionate care in aged care settings.

  • Roshan J Mundapallil, Sowmya Lakshmi

Simha, at 74 years old, spent over a month in the ICU. Initially unconscious, he later regained consciousness but remained critical for almost two weeks. Aware that his life teetered on the edge, there were days when the suffering was so intense that he found himself cursing and praying for an end out of desperation. Following the initial hospitalisation, he was transferred to advantAGE Skilled Nursing home for rehabilitation. Almost five months later, Damodar Simha, a retired marine engineer with over three decades of experience, reflects on how he navigated through such a challenging ordeal and reclaimed his days of good health.

He attributes his remarkable recovery to a select group of nurses who attended to him in the advantAGE skilled nursing home. He could differentiate between those who approached their duties with compassion and those who did not. When cared for by compassionate nurses and carers, he vividly recalls, “I knew that each day would be a positive experience, and their compassion would bolster my fight and aid in my recovery.” Simha firmly believes that the compassion shown by these nurses worked miracles for him during his critical recovery. While there’s no exclusive scientific data to support Simha’s claim, we affirm that providing compassionate care can indeed make a difference, demonstrating that healthcare outcomes arenot solely dependent on medications and treatments.

Compassionate nurses and caregivers demonstrate dedication by actively engaging with patients and displaying kindness. Let’s understand compassionate care. Many definitions are there but we choose to define compassion as the emotional response to another’s pain or suffering involving an authentic desire to help. Few people use empathy, a closely related term — which is the first step of feeling and understanding that another person’s emotions — but compassion goes beyond ‘empathy’ because it also involves taking action (A simple equation is like this: empathy + action = compassion). Compassion in nursing should not limit to showing empathy to distress but reassure the patients and cheering them. This also includes strengthening patients with proper nursing care. First step to compassionate care is responding to patient needs by understanding the physical, spiritual and emotional aspects. Compassionate care is the most important component of high-quality nursing care. Compassionate care provides a sense to patients that their condition and concerns are being heard, recognised and acted upon.

In long-term care facilities, such as assisted living or skilled nursing homes, where elderly patients live with chronic and debilitating conditions for extended periods, nursing and caregiving present formidable challenges. Caregivers across various settings provide hands-on care. However, in long-term care facilities, caregiving extends beyond addressing physical needs. A skilled caregiver not only attends to a senior or a person with disabilities but also offers encouragement, fosters a meaningful bond, and, in many instances, becomes an integral part of the family. The most exceptional professional caregivers surpass expectations, going above and beyond for the seniors under their care.

Consider these qualities when seeking a professional and compassionate caregiver for seniors. Caregiving is a challenging task, and true excellence in compassionate care is achieved by a caregiver who is passionate about their vocation. Look for someone who doesn’t merely perform duties as an assignment but genuinely cares for the well-being of the elderly. Finding such individuals is challenging in today’s era, making compassionate caregivers truly the ‘rarest of rare.’ These caregivers consistently exhibit positivity, enthusiasm, happiness, and a genuine expression of love. Their dedication extends to actively seeking ways to enhance the lives of those they care for.

Another characteristic we observe in compassionate caregivers is a genuine willingness to be highly adaptable and display considerable patience. Caregivers should not anticipate that every day will unfold predictably, as many days deviate from expectations. Uncertainty is inherent, emergencies may surface, and residents might exhibit uncooperative or emotional behaviour. Caregivers must be ready to adjust their approach, adopting new strategies when elders experience more pain or discomfort than usual. Those who are overly rigid and lack patience may struggle in handling such situations.

Selfless service is a key trait of a compassionate caregiver. An exemplary caregiver prioritises the needs of the senior they care for above all else. The dedicated caregiver often makes significant personal sacrifices for the well-being of their client, even when faced with challenges like a stubborn care recipient or family interference. It’s noteworthy that this caregiving role is carried out without expecting appreciation or additional financial rewards, truly embodying the essence of selfless service.

Compassionate and patient-centered care has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by avoiding unnecessary investigations and invasive procedures. In contrast, in the past, where healthcare providers had a personal connection with patients, modern healthcare relies more on costly testing and technology. Additionally, compassionate caregiving serves as a means to mitigate caregiver burnout, a prevalent issue, especially in long-term care facilities. Research indicates that fostering more human connection in healthcare can effectively address the widespread burnout among care providers. When compassionate care becomes a fulfilling experience for healthcare providers, positive outcomes such as resilience and resistance can emerge. In essence, a stronger relationship between caregivers and recipients acts as a protective factor against burnout for the caregiver.

However, is there a “price” for compassion? There’s a misconception among healthcare providers that showing compassion to patients is time-consuming, but in reality, it is not, or at least not significantly. Our experience indicates that conveying compassion takes only a few minutes for a caregiver. Uttering comforting words doesn’t incur much cost. Phrases like “Don’t worry, I am here with you,” “You can face this, be calm,” and “We will come out successful” can make a significant positive impact.

Over the past century, healthcare has undergone significant transformations due to technological advancements, enabling remarkable progress in medicine and extending human life. However, this shift in medical technology has altered the essence of healthcare from a service-oriented, compassionate model to a cure-focused, technology-driven approach. It’s common to observe doctors engrossed in computers, minimizing direct patient interactions. Relying solely on technology fosters an impersonal approach, potentially hindering the recovery process. Encouragingly, recent trends show a positive shift, with physicians seeking to restore a more holistic and spiritually rooted dimension to medicine. Compassionate care, in this context, encompasses addressing the entirety of an individual—physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

In various caregiving roles, opportunities for compassionate care vary. We interviewed Srikanth, an intensive care doctor, who highlighted the challenge of communicating with unconscious patients. However, he emphasised the importance of connecting with the patients’ families. In our advantAGE coma care home, every nurse and doctor attending to coma patients is trained to address the unconscious patient as if they were conscious, treating them with humanity rather than as mere figures.

Does compassion extend solely to healthcare professionals? Let’s delve into compassion care visits – unique encounters where a family member or visitor offers comfort, support, or assistance to an elderly person in a sickbed. These visits hold unparalleled therapeutic value, particularly aiding older adults facing trauma or end-of-life care.

When our neighbour was bedridden due to stroke, his schoolmates used to visit daily. Though he lost speech, and unable to chat with them, he used to actively engage in political debates. The group of friends were regular visitors and they never miss a day. All these friends spend two hours upto lunch time and these visits really helped him feel better emotionally. These visits were important from the point of emotional support during recovery. Compassionate care visits are not limited only to this kind of situation. For example, an older adult who is grieving after spouse or family member recently passed away also needed compassion visits.

Examples of compassionate nursing care involve dedicating time to patients and their families while employing high-quality care skills. These skills encompass both compassionate care and emotional support, aiming to alleviate stress and negative experiences associated with hospitalisation. In our article preparation, we spoke with Prema Mambally, the Nursing-in-charge of advantAGE seniors, who provided us with specific examples.

Another illustration of compassionate nursing involves demonstrating good manners. This is exhibited through politeness and composure, particularly in emergencies. Politeness and composure are effectively conveyed through warm smiles, maintaining eye contact, and avoiding hurried body language like foot tapping or pen clicking. Prema highlighted the use of a smile, a reassuring look, and a gentle touch as ways to express caring and affection in compassionate care.

She cited another instance of compassionate nursing care, emphasising the importance of showing personal interest. Engaging in small talk to learn about the patient’s life is an effective way to convey personal interest. Additionally, being an attentive listener during patients’ personal stories and asking follow-up questions is another valuable approach.

Recognising the emotions of patients is another method of demonstrating compassionate care. According to Prema, using phrases like “I understand” is a meaningful way to convey empathy, significantly boosting the comfort level of patients. Another illustration of compassionate care involves investing time to understand the patient’s experiences. This is achieved by familiarising oneself with the patient’s background. This will prevent miscommunications and help translating medical information into layman’s terms. Taking the initiative to think and learn about what patients have endured is a valuable approach to comprehend their current behaviour.

Prema Mambally from advantAGE seniors outlines the advantages of compassionate care for caregivers. These include experiencing satisfaction from assisting seniors, enhancing working relationships with colleagues, boosting job satisfaction, and lowering stress levels. These benefits not only make a challenging job more fulfilling but also foster a positive connection among healthcare providers, care teams, and patients.

Compassion for patients is a profound driver of recovery. Try casually ask patients what they look for in a health care provider or specifically a physician or nurse or a caregiver, they don’t say the technical things because they just assume that’s their domain, that the doctor or nurse knows what he or she is doing. Every patient expects the doctor or nurse to be more friendly, casual and empathetic. Is there a compassion crisis in the modern day health care, the answer is yes. Like we mentioned earlier, physicians and nurses heavily depend on electronic data, hence they miss opportunities to respond to patients with compassion. Let everyone know compassion does make a difference, and that’s sort of what everybody knows in health care, but not put to practice.