Relevance and Importance of Whole Person Care
Keiro interviewed Michelle Hirano, family member of an Iyashi Care patient, who shared about her experience with Iyashi Care and how it may be beneficial to others in the community, including the millennial generation.

michelle Hirano

Grandma that Kept Everyone Together

For Michelle and her family, her grandmother was a key caretaker who kept the family together. Remembering her childhood, Michelle shared, “My grandma lived with us growing up. When I was younger, she would help take care of my brother and me, as well as cooking and things around the house.” She did this for Michelle’s cousins too. With time and her grandmother aging, that role began shifting.

Going from the primary care provider in a large extended family to accepting care from others was a difficult transition both for Michelle’s grandmother and mother. “My mom would tell Grandma to relax and watch TV, but she would flat out refuse and not want to do that. She wanted to help around the house and feel useful,” Michelle explained.

Living alone became more dangerous for her grandmother, and eventually the family looked into other options. They even thought about her possibly going abroad to live with relatives in other countries, but after much consideration, and with the pandemic, she decided to stay in the Los Angeles area. When making these decisions, keeping her grandmother’s wishes in mind was very important. “For our family, it’s important for the individual to feel all their needs are met, not just physical but spiritual and emotional.” Unfortunately, they did not see that in the regular health care setting, where her physician determined that “she was fine” though her family could see she was declining.

Sanshin and Whole Person Care

While navigating through these transitions, Michelle’s mother first heard about the Iyashi Care program through Keiro’s quarterly publication. “My mom is very involved in caregiving for multiple individuals in the family. She proactively looks for different health systems and initiatives given her nursing background.”

While it took some time to enroll, once the visit happened, they immediately saw the program’s benefits. “My mom realized it would be impactful once the team started asking about my grandma’s background. It wasn’t just health records, but what were you interested in, what were you doing. It was about the whole person. That’s how the [Iyashi Care] team got to know she was from Okinawa, and understood the cultural difference and significance of being Okinawan versus from a different part of Japan. Which is so important for my grandmother and her generation.”

Michelle went on to recall one specific visit, where Dr. Yanami played sanshin (Okinawan guitar). This was experienced stayed with her, as it wasn’t anything they had ever experienced with other health care services. “My grandmother doesn’t show emotions and is very stoic, so for her to have tears and show emotions was a huge breakthrough for my mom. After this encounter, it also helped my mother and grandmother’s relationship open up more, in trying to understand what my grandmother may want or need.”

dr yanami with sanshin

Millennial Generation and Caregiving – Conversations have yet to be made

While Michelle commented she is not as involved in caregiving as compared to her mother, she continues to stay connected with her grandmother who enjoys engaging with younger generations. She typically provides mental health support whenever she visits.

Given her experience with her grandmother, Michelle recommends the program to the community. She believes that the concept of whole-person, holistic care is becoming more preferred by her generation and the need for such services will only continue to grow.

hand caring for another hand

“Maybe we don’t always think of cultural relevance or sensitivity as something that’s important to a person’s health, but seeing the Iyashi Care team’s interaction with my grandma was so important. For a health care team to understand a person’s background, and these little things that could just make them more comfortable in a setting that may be so cold or a system that may be so confusing – it’s very meaningful that there are teams who are willing to look at you as a whole rather than just a part of a body.”

She said conversation with families and friends about caregiving for her parents and older relatives has been minimal so far, but she has talked on the surface of what the future may look like in their cousin group. She agrees though, given how complex and difficult the healthcare system is, it’s a much-needed topic that could be shared more widely, and that many in her generation still haven’t gotten around talking about these things yet. “We [millennial generation] always talk about ‘adulting,’ and people directly say, ‘I don’t know how to adult’ and we’re just making it through,” chuckled Michelle. “I think there’s this bigger question of what even do we need to know and understand to become better informed and make better decisions.”

When asked what the millennial generation should know about caregiving, Michelle said that it is important to be aware of resources before you need them. “Learning about Iyashi Care could be a proactive thing for you and your family. You don’t have to have it be a reactive thing. I feel so fortunate enough to know this program.”