Supporting the mental health of caregivers, seniors, families

In 1989, Diane Knutson gave birth to her first child. She was living across the street from a skilled nursing/assisted living community at the time and would see the residents go for walks and enjoy the outdoors.

“I’d watch them and think, ‘I bet they would really enjoy seeing my baby,’ so I went over and signed up to volunteer,” Diane recalled.

Diane Knutson

Initially, some residents were quiet and reserved, Diane said, but that quickly changed when they saw her baby. “The way their faces lit up, … I felt like they were trying to tell me they needed that companionship and that emotional support and that just really spoke to me.”

As her children got older, Diane continued to volunteer. Eventually, she was hired by Walker Methodist where she worked for nine years. Today, Diane works as a concierge at Waters on 50th in Minneapolis.

“I love it because I get to interact with seniors and their families every day,” Diane said. “Even something small, like if they need a ride or if they’re having troubles with the TV, I just get to help them. It’s extremely important to me that I get to listen to them. I see too often that older adults are dismissed or ignored.”

Diane’s favorite part of her job is getting a chance to visit with residents. “They are rich with life experience and have so much insight to offer society,” she said. “The most rewarding part is knowing that I am giving them the respect and validation that they deserve. I treat them like competent adults and like any other relationship that I would have, and that’s what’s important to me.”

Diane is currently attending grad school to become a licensed counselor. She was inspired to pursue counseling during her time at Walker Methodist. “This stage of life has considerable loss and transitions, it became very apparent to me that seniors and their family members really need someone to talk to,” she said.

When she receives her counseling license, Diane plans to make herself available as a freelance counselor to assisted living centers, seniors, families and caregivers. “I would like to see all senior services have mental health professionals on staff,” she said.

Further, Diane said, she hopes to see more support systems in place for professional caregivers. “Increasing wages for caregivers is going to be crucial,” she said. “Financially, they need support, but we need to supply more mental health support for them as well.”

After all, Diane said, caregivers have an essential purpose. “It can’t just be a job,” she explained. “They might be the only person that [a resident] talks to all day. They might be the only one that actually takes time with them. Caregivers should not underestimate the impact they’re making, and it’s really valuable.”

Diane also supports increased funding for senior care in Minnesota. She said she sees a struggle to access resources like transportation, particularly in rural areas.

“In general, I would like to see a more compassionate society where we all collectively care for the disabled and older adults and even preparation for end of life.”

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