They are three simple words that mean so much. “I love you” are the words a mother whispers to her baby. They are the words you confess to your true love. They are the words you might utter to a parent on their deathbed.
But should aged care workers tell residents they love them?
This question came up on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group recently, and we thought it was an interesting one.
A large majority of support group members who commented said they do tell residents they love them, and it often seems to be something they say last thing at night, when they are putting a resident to bed and saying goodnight.
Some members of the support group said they say it back to residents who say it to them, and others said they are happy to tell a resident they love them because it might be the only time the resident hears those comforting, consoling words.
“[They are] mainly dementia residents or palliative, and I tell them I love them back because I may be the last person they talk to if they pass in their sleep that night. [Then] they go to bed knowing they are loved.
“I like to tell my residents one thing everyday I love about them, like their smile or the way they laugh.
“We aren’t just there to meet their physical needs, but their emotional as well.
“I have a palliative resident who gets so lonely in his room he will ring his buzzer just to hold my hand for five minutes to feel a connection to someone.
Cutts’ comment received the post’s largest number of ‘likes’.
But some members of the support group said management at their home does not permit staff to tell residents they love them, or to kiss them on the cheek or display other signs of affection.
Colin McDonnell, dementia and wellbeing consultant at Calvary Care, told HelloCare if a resident told him they loved him, he would redirect that sentiment in a way that still makes them feel good.
For example, he would say, ‘I feel the same way about you’, ‘It’s good we can spend this time together’ or ‘You make me happy.’
“I don’t know why you’d say [I love you],” McDonnell said.
Leading dementia researcher Tom Kitwood wrote that treachery (deceiving someone to distract or manipulate them or force them into compliance) and infantilism (treating a person in a patronising way) are ways of reducing a person’s personhood.
But at the same time, McDonnell said when talking to someone with dementia, it is important to acknowledge their reality.
A female carer telling a female resident they love them might be construed differently from a female carer telling a male carer the same thing, for example.
“I certainly wouldn’t say it if I was showering someone of the opposite sex,” McDonnell said, noting that he has known of circumstances where a resident has become infatuated with a member of staff.
In the long shadow of the royal commission, McDonnell is also cautious about people overhearing such comments, and misconstruing them.
But he maintains an open mind. “Whatever they feel is right. Whatever works,” he said.
“What’s really important is how you make them feel, if you give someone empathy and it makes them feel good inside.”
What do you think? Is it OK as a carer to say ‘I love you’ to a resident? Share your thoughts with us below.