Family Caregiver Turns Professional, Brings Joy to Clients With Dementia
Sheryl Thorstensen held a lot of different jobs before discovering her calling as a caregiver. She had worked as a prison guard, an aircraft mechanic in the military, and even a fry cook, but nothing that truly felt like a career. When Sheryl started working for Right at Home, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, in 2018, everything finally started to fall into place for her.
“This is really my calling; this is where I belong,” says Sheryl. “It’s really in alignment with my Christian values and beliefs; I am here to serve others.”
“Sheryl has an uncanny ability to step into someone else’s world,” says Shelley Reed, owner of Right at Home, Menomonee Falls. “She just transcends her world and understands somebody else’s without any effort.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Sheryl was named Right at Home’s Midwest Region Caregiver of the Year for 2021.
Sheryl was living in California when she received a call that her mother was ill. Without hesitation, she packed up her life and moved back home to Wisconsin to care for her mother. Eventually, Sheryl also cared for her grandmother when her grandmother’s health was failing, taking her grandmother into her own home to administer hospice.
After years of being a family caregiver, Sheryl was in the market for a job, but found herself being rejected for being too overqualified for the positions she was applying for.
“A good friend at the time recommended that I look into respite care, and I found Right at Home,” recalls Sheryl. “I genuinely love my clients and can’t believe I get paid to hang out with them.”
Although she openly admits that she’s an introvert, Sheryl has thoroughly enjoyed every social interaction she has had with her clients over the years.
“Working as a caregiver means that you’ll get to learn so much about people and history and things. I’ve learned about cleaning products like you wouldn’t believe!” she jokes. “I enjoy the transfer of knowledge and getting to know people.”
Laughing Through the Hard Times
Since joining Right at Home four years ago, Sheryl has become known for her patience and cheerful disposition, which has made her a wonderful caregiver to those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Sheryl is not one to leave a client when the cares or behaviors of the client become a little much,” says Hayley Engen, Human Resource Manager for Right at Home, Menomonee Falls. “She understands dementia and how it affects clients’ brains. You can see this by the way she approaches personal care like when she helps clients shower, or when they experience sundowning in the evening.”
Sheryl’s signature sense of humor is a big part of why clients love her so much, and how she copes with the harder experiences.
“She adds a lot of humor to her work to help keep things in perspective,” says Shelley.
“I work with a lot of clients with Alzheimer’s,” says Sheryl. “They really live in the moment. They are angry when they feel angry, and happy when they feel happy. Getting to make them laugh is just the best.”
Approaching Life With Empathy
Sheryl has been praised for her attention to detail and innate ability to foresee her clients’ needs.
“She truly defines what empathy means and actually lives it,” says Shelley. “She tries to see things through someone else’s eyes and can anticipate what she can do to make their world better. This is why she’s so great with dementia clients in particular.”
When asked how she feels about being recognized as Right at Home’s Midwest Region Caregiver of the Year, Sheryl reiterates that caregiving is her true calling in this life.