Elder Caregiving is Like Spinning Plates

Elder Caregiving is Like Spinning Plates

In Elder Caregiving, “Spinning Plates” is a State of Being 

Do you remember plate-spinning? Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up with the magic of the circus (or at least The Ed Sullivan Show) witnessed the art of spinning plates.  

The imagery created has always been so power-FULL to me, and something I am afraid will fade from our history.  The plate-spinners amaze and delight the audience with their craft. They spin, nurture, they race back and forth in frenetic pace, seemingly to avoid catastrophe. If they do look up or acknowledge another it is but for a moment if at all. These are the very images that come to mind when I empathize with chronic caregiving family members who describe their efforts to keep things going and to maintain control over the course of unfolding events. 

How Elder Caregiving Is Like Spinning Plates

In chronic caregiving as in plate-spinning, the person must remain in constant action. Not only must they multitask, they must create the Multitask, ever anticipating, sometimes reacting. A caregiver must divide their focus among several spinning things. They must keep all these focal points aloft and ever-spinning. Their fear also spins (What if I let one fall? What will happen if something goes wrong, a task is left undone or I fail?).

The kid inside me has always wanted to learn how to spin plates. I was attracted to the razzle-dazzle and being the standout, to be able to do something no one else around me could do. I could become a stand out at parties or at school. There might be fame and fortune. It could lead to a career in showbiz! 

Many years later my path led to healthcare, especially chronic care and elder care. One day I came across the 1969 video of plate-spinning on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. I could not stop watching. 

In childlike amazement and absolute delight, I am glued to the video. The artist hurries to and fro to check plates and other items in motion. The spinner scurries, remedies, forever glancing ahead and behind. He may be aware of an audience, but he is largely focused on his mission. At times he seems in sync with musical accompaniment, in the groove, and his tasks seem a bit easier as he spins along. (No pun intended. Okay, maybe some pun.)

At the conclusion of the performance and with perspiration evident upon his brow, our plate-spinner smiles wanly. He takes a much-deserved and deep breath, as if having somehow forgotten to breathe. Finally he is again aware of those around him, and our spinner takes a bow.

Does all this seem hauntingly familiar, Caregivers? You see or even feel the comparison, don’t you?

I appreciate plate-spinning in a whole new way now. As a child I thought it was funny, comical, certainly amazing. I was admiring of the quirky talent. Today I relate differently. Our Clients and families are spinning plates. We as Advocates and Case Managers are spinning plates on your behalf. As I write this, I believe it to be true. Caregiving, like spinning plates, is a state of being.

Elder Caregiving, like Spinning Plates, is a State of Being

“Wow, this is my life,” I thought to myself. As a Professional Advocate, coach and agency owner in the field of elder caregiving, I often find that I am (using my best television voice here) “now joining this program already in progress.” I’m called in when plates are already spinning, or when they are wobbling and about to fall. At best my Clients are losing momentum, and they know it. And, if you’ll pardon another showbiz analogy, they are operating without a net.

As Advocates we spin one plate, two plates, maybe a doctor or specialist. A third plate goes up: discharge planning, and then maybe rehab. As our eyes dart down to the end of the line, we’re thinking about change in any form: medical or cognitive status, housing, paying for chronic caregiving, and family dynamics.

Then, more plates go up: the attorney and the financial professional to engage for long-term strategy. They’ll have to earmark monies to pay for care or eventually help avoid taxes and probate. If I could put two plates on one stick at this point I would, as the Legal/Financial relationships can often be critical to a good outcome.

Meanwhile the Advocate is running back and forth to check the plates and to give them a good spin. We must check in on each of them to see how it’s doing individually and collectively. Then it’s time to work in the future, glancing ahead to quickly plan effort, adaptation to change, and speculating future needs whether it’s aging-in-place or planning a move. We’ll be wary of history also, knowing which plates have been okay in their spinning and which ones have required more attention.

After a time, our Advocate-Plate-Spinner returns to the first few plates to let them down carefully and set them aside, all the while still tending to the plates still in action and perhaps setting up something special at the end. (Did you watch the end of the video performance? See the unexpected surprise?). I must also declare:

Advocacy, like Elder Caregiving and Spinning Plates, is a State of Being

Remember that perspiration and little smile at the end? There’s a bit of that inside all us Elder Caregiving Advocates as we smile: reaching the end, the accomplishment itself, or mitigating debacle, lessening fear, being there for support and making a difference.

elder caregiving, Raleigh, N.C.

One is hard-pressed these days to even locate an image of plate-spinning on the internet. I share this picture with you because it is significant to me, although I must declare that a two-dimensional image does not do the talent justice. No description of all that an elder caregiver does will ever be just or comprehensive either. (And who among us would even have or take the time to stop and relay all that we as caregivers are called to do? That’s crazy talk).

Plate-spinning certainly provides the perfect image for my profession: constant action, attention to detail, ability to work within a continuum, advocacy and assessment skills-extraordinaire, and the ability to keep eyes on the road ahead.

What about you? Are you spinning elder caregiving plates? Are your plates beginning to wobble? I will tell you from experience – that’s alright. It’s part of the performance. Simply contact us to see how we can get you to the point where you can let some plates down gently and breathe. 

We can take on or take over your elder caregiving plate-spinning needs. Let NAVIGATE NC of Raleigh, N.C., get you to the breathe-and-smile part. Find out how when you CONNECT WITH US  on our website or call us at 919.628.4428 to set a complimentary consultation. 

Image credits: Creative Commons (top photo); Dreamstime (second photo)

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