Empathy vs. Sympathy: Understanding the Difference When Working with Elderly Patients

Are you new to the home care field? As you get acclimated with this exciting and rewarding career path, you’ll start to see firsthand that empathy and compassion are the hallmarks of a trusted and caring healthcare provider. Understanding the difference between empathy and sympathy is essential for providing care to your patients in a way that meets their needs both physically and emotionally. In this blog, we break down the differences between empathy and sympathy – and why each matter:



Empathy is the trait that allows us to understand what a patient is feeling or going through – either physically, mentally, or emotionally. As a caregiver, being empathic to your patient involves taking the time to understand their perspective and reflect on their thoughts or feelings. In many instances, empathy is essential for caring for sick or terminally ill individuals. From memory loss to not being able to eat a meal, patients who suffer from a variety of ailments need caregivers who treat them with compassion during this extremely difficult or sensitive time. Listening to patients’ concerns and being mindful not to pass judgment will make you an empathetic caregiver who can provide a much-needed source of comfort for your patients.



While empathy is your ability to feel another person’s struggles, pain, or hardships, sympathy is the state of feeling sorry for somebody. At times during your home care career, there will be situations in which expressing sympathy will allow you to help and connect with patients on a deeper level. For example, a husband or wife dealing with the loss of their spouse will most likely be longing for sympathy as they grieve their loved one. Being able to connect with a patient on a sympathetic level will help to alleviate their pain and support, especially as they’re suffering from loss or tragedy.


Your ability to exemplify both empathy and sympathy with patients is essential for success in the home care field. Understanding the differences between empathy and sympathy will allow you to demonstrate the proper emotions when comforting and supporting patients during their times of need.


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