Caretaking facilitates growth, appreciation

Lesli Pennock
Lesli Pennock has provided full-time care to her husband since he had a stroke January 2015. (Lesli Pennock)

Various BYU students have chosen to work as caretakers to gain experience in working with patients to help prepare for different forms of careers in health care.

Yet, in cases of family health problems, some work in caretaking isn’t always by choice, but necessity. One such example is BYU alumna Lesli Pennock.

Pennock has been working as a full-time caretaker for her husband since his stroke in January 2015. Pennock said the experience has been challenging but that she has seen many blessings along the way.

Pennock said she could have chosen to have home health care come to help with her husband, but she decided it was better for their situation for her to stay home and care for her husband full-time.

BYU senior Blake Cowan works as a caretaker for adults with autism for August Sun Inc. He looked into caregiving to help give him patient exposure for medical school.

Cowan has worked with the same clients for a little over two years.

“Some of the clients are little more aggressive than others, so you have to be trained in different types of restraints to be able to help get the clients into a safe position where they’re not going to hurt themselves or other people (and) allows them to calm down,” Cowan said.

Cowan said working as a caretaker includes having the patience to help his clients learn something or help them see the importance of doing simple things, such as personal hygiene or cleaning their rooms.

Dani Jardine
From left: Ryan Miles sits with caregiver Blake Cowan. Cowan has worked as a caregiver for over two years and said working as a caretaker has helped him gain an appreciation for what he has. (Dani Jardine)

Clients can also teach their caregivers quite a few things, according to Cowan.

“They can even teach you awesome lessons because they don’t come with a lot of judgment of others or criticism,” Cowan said.

BYU senior Kelsie Tanner also learns from the people she cared for.

Tanner worked as a caregiver for Danville Support Services during the summer of 2016. While she cared for two older women — including one who needed 24-hour care — Tanner said she was “learning things along with them.”

Tanner said learning caretaking skills like cooking, cleaning and caring for another person helps her now as a mom.

Although caretaking may seem burdensome at times, Tanner said those who are passionate about caring for others find it a joy.

Kylan Vanderpool, another caregiver who works with Cowan, said one of the autistic clients he works with was pretty aggressive in the beginning and would get in “tussles” with Vanderpool occasionally.

Instead of getting mad at his client, Vanderpool said he would just love him. Simply expressing love has brought Vanderpool and his client closer together and now he is less aggressive, Vanderpool said.

BYU junior Jessi Groesbeck currently works at the Courtyard at Jamestown Assisted Living in Provo. Initially, Groesbeck said she was hoping to gain patient experience by working at a hospital, but after realizing the competitive nature of getting a job there, she decided to reconsider caretaking.

“I didn’t want to do it at all, but now I don’t know why I wouldn’t have done this,” Groesbeck said. “I’m so glad I did.”

Groesbeck said her preparation to be a nurse practitioner encouraged her to gain experiences working as a caretaker. She said her experiences have shown her that she hopes to one day care for her own family.

“I’ve personally called up my grandparents and said, ‘Listen, if you ever get to this point in your life, I will be the one to take care of you,'” Groesbeck said.

About 80 percent of the residents at the assisted living center have family visit often, according to Groesbeck.

“The main reason why people put their family in assisted living is for safety,” Groesbeck said.

If an individual needs 24-hour care, Groesbeck said it’s usually easier and safer to have a caretaker provide for them.

Dani Jardine
From left to right: Kylan Vanderpool, Aaron Wheatley, Ryan Miles, Jared Foster, Julie Babb, Joey Miles and Blake Cowan pose for a group photo at Julie Babb’s home. Caretakers through August Sun Inc. care for Joey and Ryan Miles daily. (Dani Jardine)

However, not all families outsource for help in taking care of their family members. The decision depends on the individual and what is safest for them.

“I think having a family member caretaker is just way too hard. I’ve seen too many people who it just wears on them over time,” Tanner said. “It just sucks away the life and they’re not able to do whatever they want, versus somebody like me who loves to take care of other people and who would love to be able to relieve that burden from other people.”

In the assisted living center, Groesbeck said the experience is catered to the residents. Those at the center can refuse anything because the center honors a bill of rights for residents.

“They have the legal right to say no to anything or refuse anything,” Groesbeck said. “That’s also kind of a struggle because sometimes their health gets worse because they refuse things. You just have to chart it.”

Pennock said there are definite blessings and struggles that come with the job of caretaking. One result of the stroke that has made it hard for Pennock to know how to best care for her husband has been his inability to speak or understand speech.

“He’s been really accepting. And I don’t know if that’s his own strength coming out or if he’s been blessed by the Lord,” Pennock said. “By and large, he just works really hard.”

Pennock said the hardest part about taking care of her husband is that it is constant. So, she said she takes things a day at a time and only worries about what needs to get accomplished that day.

Now, her husband can walk with a walker, has regained some of the feeling in the right side of his body, can understand most of what Pennock says and can answer with a word or two.

Dani Jardine
Caregivers Kylan Vanderpool (left) and Blake Cowan (right) sit with client Ryan Miles (center). Vanderpool said simply loving Miles has helped Miles progress. (Dani Jardine)

“It is getting better, but it’s really slow and really gradual,” Pennock said. “We just keep trying and working at it every day and he is still making improvements too, so that’s been cool.”

Cowan said he has focused on expecting small victories first and that, over time, those can become big victories.

“When you see them actually do it on their own without being prompted, it’s a good feeling,” Cowan said. “I’ve learned to look for those small victories.”

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