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Transitions in Caregiving

(Moving beyond the literal to explore the existential…)

care transitions

The phrases “care transitions” or “transitions in care” haven’t reached Merriam-Webster’s radar yet, but I have no doubt that they will.

Within health care circles around the country they refer to the literal transitions that occur when a patient moves from one care setting to another.  Some examples include hospital to home; hospital to assisted living facility or nursing home, etc.

Not surprisingly, research has shown what patients and families have known for a while: a care transition is a time of great vulnerability. Legislation tied to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 will attempt to reduce that vulnerability in the years ahead; I think this is money well spent.

However, aside from the literal transitions in care I’ve just described, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing and helping families to cope with different, but equally significant and meaningful,  transitions in care — the existential ones. I’m speaking of the care transitions that occur any time illness, injury or some yet undefined, nebulous change in the health of one person requires someone else — typically a family member — to assume a different role.  

These existential care transitions often happen quietly, subtly…and yet they pack a considerable emotional punch. In a moment they have the power to forever alter the relationship that was. 

In my experience, no one is prepared for the existential transitions in care (it would be a bit like trying to prepare to be a parent before the baby is actually born) and therefore they too render people vulnerable.

In my direct work with family caregivers one woman taught me more about the existential transitions in care than any other.  Several years after our work together I wrote about her journey through caregiving. In telling her story I hoped to offer support to others who might be coping with similar life-altering caregiving experiences — a virtual “you are not alone.” 

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