Let empathy and respect guide relatives and family caregivers to more easily provide the nurturing support that seniors need.
I have been blessed with an amazing family! My parents instilled a sense of dignity and respect in my brother, my sister, and I. When the time came to take care of our 81-year-old father as a result of an unexpected diagnosis – advanced multiple myeloma – we strived to care for him in a way that made him feel loved and cared for.
Much to my surprise, our family followed many of the steps that are recommended in the book “How to Care for Aging Parents” by Virginia Morris. I obtained a copy at AGE of Central Texas’ Caregiver Conference in Austin in September 2014, which was sponsored in part by the Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area.
This book is an amazing resource for family caregivers. I have taken some highlights and added my own experiences to offer tips on how to provide loving, respectful and dignified care for our aging loved ones.
Let seniors do as much as they are able to safely do. Being overly helpful can make them feel like they have lost more of their abilities and independence than they really have. It can also lead them to expect you to take on more tasks than necessary, adding to your already full load. Just be observant and offer help when you see that it is truly needed.
Just because your aging senior can no longer do everything that he/she used to do does not mean that it’s ok to treat him/her like a child. “Be civil and treat her with respect…give her choices and listen to her views…ask others to treat your parents with respect as well.”
Walk a Mile in their Shoes
We don’t know what it’s like to be our parents or any other senior. We have not lived the same life and may not be aware of inner turmoils with which they contend. Would we want to be treated unkindly because we are old, slower, or sick?
Know you are Silently Appreciated
Most likely, our seniors are grateful for our help even though they may not acknowledge it. Perhaps in doing so, they are faced with the unpleasant reality of having lost their freedom and self-sufficiency. This pill is hard to swallow when we place such importance on independence. Sometimes a “thank you” is conveyed with their eyes or with a gentle touch. Actions speak louder than words. Be mindful of their disposition when they are in your presence. A sincere show of gratitude could be expressed in the way they look at you, in their body language or even through a bit of teasing and a twinkle in their eye!
Take a Step Back and Adjust your Perspective
As long as your loved one is safe, not endangering others, and is competent, final decisions belong to him/her. Seniors may have different reasons for choosing to take certain actions than you. As much as we want to do “the best” for our loved ones, we must allow them the dignity and respect to make their own decisions. It must not become a game of “tug-of-war” and it’s not that your care is “wrong” or unappreciated. It’s just a difference of opinion and need not be taken personally. We would want that for ourselves! When age or illness takes away our abilities, it’s important to retain the few that we can still exercise.
Get to Know thy Senior
Set aside time to ask your loved one about his/her childhood, school, hobbies or interests. This would be a golden opportunity to gently ask his/her thoughts about the current condition. My beloved father spoke at length with my younger sister because she asked questions about him: his thoughts, his feelings, what he treasured in his life. The bond that was there all along strengthened and deepened with their conversations. Not only did my sister get to know my Dad much better, but she seized the time that he still had on this Earth to create meaningful and irreplaceable memories.
Lynn Greenblatt is a family caregiver for her husband (CRPS) and a long-distance caregiver for her mother, who continues to rebuild a new life without her husband of 50 years. Through CaregivingCafe.com, Lynn’s mission is to connect family caregivers to reliable information and resources in order to help family caregivers to better manage their caregiving. She also encourages family caregivers to invest in their own wellness by practicing self-care, doing something enjoyable, and staying social.
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