MindingOurElders: Staff use of pet names for mother annoys caregiving daughter

Dear Carol: My mom, who’d been healthy all her life, recently suffered a stroke which requires the skilled care available in a nursing home. Her overall care seems good, but I’m irritated by how they address mom because some of the aides call her “Dear” or even “Hon.” I know that these caregivers mean well and Mother doesn’t indicate any distress, but I think that this is disrespectful. I admit to being somewhat formal myself, so I’d like your opinion about whether or not I’m too critical about something relatively small. — LR.

Dear LR: You sound like a caring daughter who is concerned about all aspects of her mom’s care, which is wonderful. Granted, the quality of her care, in general, is going to be your major concern, but what people call us often mirrors how they treat us.

So, no, I don’t think that you’re being too critical, though I think that you should ask your mother how she feels in case she’s actually likes it. It could be that she’s taking this in the spirit meant.

My personal feeling about how we address anyone, but mostly elders who are living in a care setting, comes down to personal preference on the part of the person being addressed. When someone moves to a facility, they, or their family if that person can’t articulate their feelings, should be asked what this person prefers to be called and that name should be made known to the staff.

I’ll use my uncle as an example. Since he retired as an Army Air Corps colonel and spent subsequent decades working in the Pentagon, he told the nursing home staff where he moved after a stroke to call him “Colonel.” They were diligent about doing so and my uncle felt respected. There were a couple residents who were veterans and they loved calling him “Corporal,” but that’s another story!

In my opinion, there are times when rules can be bent. My mom, who lived in a nursing home for over seven years, was called by her first name, Ruth. Yet I witnessed a time when Mom was near death and the longtime nurse who was helping her called her “Ruthie.” There was such love and warmth in the nurse’s voice that I found myself blinking back tears of gratitude. This endearment spoke of love and couldn’t have been more appropriate.

I mention these stories because I think that we do need to remain flexible. Over time there may be situations, as that time with my mother, when there is an earned right by a staff member to use an endearment that simply expresses love. I want to emphasize, though, that this right should be earned. So, while I agree that caregivers who use “Dear” or “Hon” mean well, they should likely be made aware in a nice way that they should ask the person what they’d like to be called. From that point, flexibility under the right conditions may be warranted.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com.


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