Quality of Life Caregivers
/ Author: Alison Brown
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Quality of Life Caregivers

Local 304 members at Participation Lodge care for the physical and emotional needs of people with developmental disabilities. But they also help them enjoy a good and whole life

By Alison Brown 

Across Canada, healthcare workers tirelessly care for our loved ones. In hospitals, long term care homes, and hospices, these workers provide dignity and diligent care, tending to each resident’s needs—from the physical to the emotional. 

Local 304 members working for Participation Lodge, located in Owen Sound, Ontario, provide care for individuals with acquired brain injuries (ABIs) and/or developmental disabilities. While some clients are supported in an apartment building in their own unit, others live in a rented house where their supports are provided by dedicated members whose care extends beyond the physical and practical to the social and communal. 

I spoke with two members working at Participation Lodge to learn about their experiences providing care. Here are their stories. 

Steward, Support Service Worker

I’ve been working in healthcare for over 25 years, and I’ve been with Participation Lodge Grey Bruce for about three. Prior to my job here, I worked in long term care, hospital, and community settings. 

I work with clients who are able to live independently, with either 8-, 12-, or 24-hour support. This could be due to various reasons such as the individual not being able to live in a group setting; being part of a specialized program set up with the help of a hospital, psychiatrist, and doctors; or a court-appointed arrangement. Our clients can have intellectual disabilities, health and/or mental health disorders, behaviours, and/or ABIs. Most are dual diagnosis, which means more than one of these diagnoses. 

Every person is unique, and some are more complex than others. We’ve had folks with schizophrenia on top of their brain injury. 

A lot of what we do is ensuring everyone’s safety, comfort, and hopefully happiness; providing a sense of normalcy and contentment; keeping them safe from themselves; looking out for environmental/physical factors; and making their place look and feel as much like home as we can. We always have to make sure their stoves are turned off and there are no sharp utensils or objects in the drawers to keep them safe from themselves. 

There’s a huge mental health component as well. We work on strategies to help our clients deal with their emotions when they’re stressed or upset, getting them to a safe spot and giving them the agency to say no if they don’t want to do something or go out. 

What we do is focus on helping these folks have greater quality of life. We not only take care of their physical needs, we help them with meal planning and take them out grocery shopping. We also focus on what they like to do and take them out to a hockey game or a trip to the mall. 

Every day is different, and we have to stay flexible. If the client is having a difficult day, we have to be prepared to change the schedule and reshape what the day will look like. If you’re having a bad day yourself, you have to put on a poker face and go about it a different way because the client comes first. 

Having work-life balance in this profession can be a struggle. I think a lot of people are really burnt out right now. We’re constantly dealing with short-staffing. 

You have to remind yourself that you can’t be there every day, and even though we’re short-staffed, you have to take time for yourself. You’re not a superhero. Yes, your colleagues appreciate it when you pick up that extra shift, but sometimes it’s at the detriment to yourself and your own family. 

But it’s hard to say no, because it’s human beings we’re looking after. It can be hard to leave work at work. Especially when you bond with your client, and they know your name and they trust you. Once you have a client who trusts you, you tend to feel obligated to always be there for them, and even when you’re not working, you think about them. 

The best part of my job is seeing clients happy and enjoying their day and knowing I’m a part of making that happen. 

Support Service Worker

I’m a Red Seal chef by trade and was working as a chef before obtaining my personal support work certification 20 years ago. I really enjoy working directly with clients. They’re mainly 12-hour shifts where we assist our clients with living their daily lives. It’s almost like we’re living with them for those 12 hours. 

We really support every aspect of their daily lives: we remind them to take their medications, make sure they’re eating, make sure they’re stocked with groceries, and get them to help us with small tasks. We cook and clean together and do all kinds of daily tasks. One client has a fish tank and some snails, so we help him clean the tank regularly.

It’s important to have a lot of understanding and not overwhelm them. Some clients’ limits can be pushed a bit if it’s a good day, but not too much, because these are all people with behaviours.

You also have to learn to give them space when it’s not a good day, and don’t take anything personally. 

You have to understand that when a client displays behaviours and lashes out, they’re not vindictively attacking you, because they can’t really control it. You have to have so much patience and understanding and be able to look at people without judgment. 

Sometimes, you have to be an advocate with your client when you take them out, which is difficult, because some people just don’t understand.

For example, a client will go into a grocery store and wants to say hi to everyone he sees, and he may get a bad reaction from someone. You have to know how to read the situation and know when to step in. You always have to think ahead but always make sure your client is your top priority. 

In this job, you have to learn your boundaries. It’s hard to not get emotionally attached to someone you’re with every day for 12 hours, sometimes longer. 

After a day shift, I go to bed exhausted from thinking, because so much of the job is your mind going all the time. On my days off, I love going swimming with my daughter and going to her gymnastics classes. 

But my clients are hands down the best part of my job. They are the most amazing people I’ve ever met.

I’m just so proud of one client and everything he’s accomplished in the short two-and-a-half years that I’ve known him. Seeing him being able to live a good and whole life is the best thing ever.

What Is an Acquired Brain Injury?

Acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to any damage to the brain that happens after birth and is not related to a congenital or degenerative disease. There are two types of ABI: traumatic and nontraumatic. 

5 Common Types of Nontraumatic Brain Injuries
1.    Aneurysm 
2.    Brain tumour 
3.    Meningitis 
4.    Opioid overdose
5.    Stroke 

4 Common Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries 
1.    Falls 
2.    Assault
3.    Sports injuries 
4.    Motor vehicle accidents

Source: braininjurycanada.com

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