Compassion – the not so secret ingredient in quality care

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Compassion is king when providing quality aged care. Yet, the idea and practice of compassion can be difficult to explain. Compassion is a word that has broad meanings. We find that words such as empathy or sympathy from within the compassion matrix are quoted interchangeably with the notion of compassion. The Royal College of Psychiatrists defined compassion as “a sensitivity to distress and then having the commitment, courage and wisdom to do something about it.” (2015)

And clearly, compassionate care isn’t simply about relieving suffering. It’s also around being courageous and present enough to consider the other’s experience of distress in a realm of the unfamiliar. That is, being brave enough to gaze, as best as possible, through a care recipient’s lens. And, by doing so, have some sense of another’s suffering so that contribution to his or her well-being, independence and dignity can be offered.

Making the time to care is the underbelly of compassionate care. It’s around being motivated enough to actually want to support and help others. Then being sensitive enough to spot ways in which a care recipient be helped. Make no mistake. Care recipients do expect their carers to make time for them and having enough insight to treat them as a whole person who comes with an individual set of needs. It’s about well-being in a holistic approach being raised on a pedestal.

Similarly, interactions are crucial to compassionate care and future life of the care recipient. They’re interactions with a distinct attitude. There’s no projection of discomfort, judgment or condemnation. There’s no sense of failure in finding a cure or rescue from the distress someone is experiencing.

Compassionate care then, is the space where communication also rules. Listening to a care recipient is clearly best practice. It wins hand down over any Efficiency Award or completing countless tasks. In the real world, time pressures lurk and this might well mean that a care recipient has to wait for care. But an excuse of a heavy workload may come across as being less compassionate. Older people might even feel fobbed off by this. If they believe that they really need help, then a “sorry there are only two of us on tonight, we’ll get back to you” won’t cut it when it comes to appearing compassionate.

Perhaps acts of compassion do unite people in trying and difficult times; perhaps they even underpin the nurturing of human relationships. They don’t siphon off the sense of uniqueness and human worth from the human condition. And even if we have evolved to an era of dazzling technological wizardry, skills in compassionate care should never be extinguished for the sake of human efficiency.

Indeed, the values of dignity and individuality that accompany compassion are the trappings of what it is to be human. And we would like to think that these values would apply equally to those who are well and who are ill.

The importance of compassion that accompanies dignity and respect for individuals and their families, is the top ingredient in the palliative care mix. It’s the care that you would want to help a loved one to live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting illness. And high quality palliative respite care, with a care recipient’s well-being raised high on a pedestal, is exactly what our MACS Palliative Care team delivers.


Hans O. Mauksch, PH.D, The Organizational Context of Dying in Elizabeth Kübler Ross, MD, Death, the Final Growth, Touchstone Publications, NY, USA, 1975.

Palliative Care Victoria,

Palliative Care Australia

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Compassion in Care: ten things you can do to make a difference: faculty report 2015.

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