A while back, I had the opportunity to interview one of the many caregivers at a mental health facility for senior citizens. We spend about half an hour talking about her responsibilities and a few of her patients. I am grateful to Ms. Castañeda
for allowing me to get a glimpse into what it is like to work with the forgotten members of today's society.
You will find the full interview, below:
Q: What is your name, title, and where did you study?
A: My name is Gloria Patricia Castañeda Velez. I am a gerontologist and I studied at Universidad Catholica de Oriente in Rionegro, Antioquia, Colombia. I work at Corporacion Unida Empresarial “CORPUEM” Cr51 41-42 Int. 304 Medellín – Colombia - (57) (4) 2324112 - (57) (4) 2320602 – (57) (4) 2324711. It is a company that provides support for the elderly by sending healthcare professionals to help them with their daily life.
Q: What type of career did you imagine yourself having while you were in school?
A: When I first started school, I was studying to be a surgeon, but as I saw my mother’s health deteriorate and my siblings leave, I felt that I could do more good by working with the forgotten population; the elderly.
Q: Describe the responsibilities your job requires.
Contribute to strengthening functional skills, dexterity, and coping skills using programs that involve making crafts among other things.
Coordination of strategic routings.
Prepare the work plan and schedule, including a schedule of activities to develop.
Establish project check points.
Communicate new project requirements.
Present support and evidence of new skills that can improve the quality of life for clients.
Coordinate and manage employee client workload.
Help clients cope with depression and Alzheimer’s.
Integrate activities with therapy.
Q: What population do you work with the most?
A: I work mostly with the elderly who are vulnerable and need protection. Working with their families and the state, we work out the proper programs that the person needs.
Q: What is it like to work here?
A: It’s fascinating very rewarding to work here. Every day, I work with people that are so warm, so full of history. It’s so satisfying to receive their gratitude and affection. Although there is no professional recognition for helping the elderly, the look on their faces when you spend even a little bit of time with them is the best recognition I can possibly get, although a rise wouldn’t be bad either! *Laughs* But seriously, the increasing demand for caregivers that specialize in gerontology is astounding. It seems that more and more people are abandoning their older family members and leaving them to fend for themselves.
Q: What type of disorders do you deal with?
Q: What disorders do you deal with the most?
A: Mainly depression. A lot of the people I work with have families that don’t visit them or only visit during the holidays. Even then, sometimes they only get a phone call. These people have difficulties coping with abandonment and loneliness especially since many of their significant others have died.
Q: Which disorders are the most interesting to treat?
A: Honestly, Alzheimer’s is the most interesting, but also the most depressing to treat. It’s interesting because you get a glimpse into how that person acted and how the world was in that person’s youth. Unfortunately, many of the clients with Alzheimer’s are the ones who have families, and they don’t remember important details like their names or birthdays.
Q: What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
A: Seeing my clients improve emotionally and the gratitude that they have for my service. After a while, they start treating you like family.
Q: What part of your job is the most frustrating? How can you change this?
A: The most frustrating part of my job is when I have to depend on the client’s family to make sure they continue with the exercises we have taught them, especially if the family has had a history of neglect or if the client is a ward of the state.
To change this, I suggest random home visits or recommending that the family put their family member into a care facility, or a least get a nurse to go to their home once a week.
Q: How do you deal with your stress? What do you do to alleviate it?
A: I take a walk around the block during my breaks and my lunch hour. I usually go to the park and take a book with me to read that has nothing to do with my profession. I think of the people I love and remember our best moments.
Q: Which client do you remember the most? Why?
A: There was a client I had a few years ago, she was 70 when I met her and she loved to play with dolls, drink aguardiente from a water bottle (so that her family wouldn’t catch her), and she had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s. I remember that she frequently got sick and had to go to the hospital, where I would meet her. As it turned out she was taking her pills with the “water” in her water bottle and had a very bad reaction. Unfortunately, no one in her family caught on to what was happening. She poisoned herself, I think it was, seven times before the doctors figured it out. She kept doing the same thing over and over again and one day, her body just couldn’t take it anymore and she died in the hospital, ten minutes before our session.
Q: What happened to that patient’s family?
A: It turned out that the client’s daughter knew that her mother replaced her water with aguardiente. The client had also stopped having liquor in her home after the second time she was hospitalized. After an investigation, the daughter admitted to poisoning her mother and she has been in prison ever since.
Q: How do you approach treating your clients?
A: I prefer starting with individual therapy to establish how the person is mentally without pressure from the family, then I bring in the family can compare the client’s body language and word choice to determine how competent the family is. If the client is a ward of the state, then I stick to the individual therapy and tailor my approach to each client.
Q: In your opinion, how do you establish a relationship of trust between you and a client?
A: Usually I just have a conversation with them. I let them tell me any story they want and make them feel that they are being heard. I treat my clients with respect. After the general conversation I ease into why they’re here and what they hope to achieve.
Q: What do you believe makes a good caregiver/therapist?
A: You have to be a good listener, and make the client feel like they are your number one priority. Keep all of their information confidential. The only time you should share any of your client’s information with anyone is if you are asking another doctor for help, the person is a danger to themselves or to others, and if the client is a ward of the state.
Q: Have you ever experienced “counter-transferrence?”
A: I have experienced clients mistaking me for their children and I have experienced clients that treat me like their children. A few of the older gentlemen say that I am the love of their life, which is great, but it’s just them trying to cope with the loss of their wives.
The interview was conducted via Skype video chat and would have continued, but there was a connectivity issue on her end, and she was only available for our scheduled time. Ms. Castañeda taught me a lot about gerontology and how the demand for gerontologists is increasing as people live longer. She made me realize that today’s generation are caring less and less about what happens to their older relatives because they are too much of a burden emotionally and financially. She said that most of her clients did not get many, if any visitors. She thinks of her mother (my grandmother) and her deteriorating health every day and is thankful that she has such a caring family (my mother and uncle did not speak for a year after arguing about how my uncle is the best off child financially, yet he does not send more than $100 per month because he does not want the siblings that live with her and take care of her to get lazy).
The most surprising thing was the story of her most memorable client. I was expecting maybe an old man groped her and told her “call me daddy” or something like that, but that client and their family took me by surprise.
I chose Ms. Castañeda to interview because she is my aunt and she is the most underrated person in my family. My family ridicules her for never marrying, shames her for having a child out of wedlock, for dating a divorced man, and for having a “useless” job. I felt that this interview would lift her spirits a bit.
Ms. Castañeda shed light on the dark side of getting older in today’s society.