Imagine getting your arms and legs, feet and hands rubbed with soothing cream. Imagine having your favorite meals prepared, served and cleaned up after you. Imagine having your laundry done and put away, your bath or shower facilitated, your clothes laid out and put on. No, you are not Marie-Antoinette, or even Maria Shriver. You could just be Mary Blake, or Maria Gomez or Mariah Washington. As an elderly or disabled individual you are entitled to these services and more as part of your daily plan of care by a health care aide.
Health care aides may be the heroes and heroines of this decade and those to come. Sometimes poorly paid, often uneducated, frequently immigrants from third world countries, health care aides are helping to manage and extend the lives of tens of thousands of Americans suffering from chronic illness, temporary physical disability or dementia. In your home (or in a facility), health care aides do the heavy and frequently dirty work of cleaning up after us, providing meals and maintaining our health.
In addition to what’s written on the “care plan,” aides may provide us company, encouragement, emotional support, solace in our loneliness, and tolerance for our moods and frustrations. For many individuals, their health care aide is just about the only social contact they have. Aides initiate outings, arrange doctors’ visits, keep families and friends informed about our well-being and sometimes act as mediators with family members when there is tension or discord.
As a psychologist specializing in aging and disabilities issues, I’ve seen hundreds of health care aides in action, either in my office or when I’ve made home visits. The extent and complexity of demands made on them is astonishing. At their best, aides can become the mother, sister, best friend or confidante of their dependents. They can make life worth it to those who have lost their will to live, enable others to function as they would have before disability struck, and cushion the blow those disabilities take on formerly independent and self-sufficient people. To be a health care aide is to be trusted with the greatest responsibility of any civilization, that of taking care of its weakest and most dependent individuals.