As family members, friends and professional caregivers step in to help a loved one, it is important to be sensitive to the changes that are taking place in the loved one’s life. Recognizing these changes is a good start to enhancing the caregiving experience and will lead to better communication and appreciation between care partners.
In addition to this loss of independence, a loved one may be feeling a loss of control. Once able to come and go freely from home or run errands at anytime, the older adult now has to consider, and often follow, the schedules of others.
Your family member may lose the ability to do what was once enjoyed. Your loved one was once responsible for his or her own well-being and now may sense that his or her role in the family has changed. This can be a very frightening experience. Sometimes, being unable to perform established tasks and duties may result in feeling a loss of self. The person may assume or may feel that this loss is accompanied by a loss of respect. This is especially apparent if the individual is not consulted about decisions or if the caregiver speaks to the person being cared for as if a child.
For this reason it is critical to respect the autonomy of your loved one. Caregivers mean well but, often out of their own anxiety and guilt, can become overly protective and begin making decisions that the relative is fully capable of making. Care recipients, even if physically frail, should be making their own decisions in consultation with other family members, if appropriate. If confusion, dementia or mental illness becomes an issue, the loved one’s role in his or her decision making may need to change.
In most cases, caregivers have added the many duties and responsibilities of caregiving to already busy lives out of love and respect for the care recipient. When a care recipient is stubborn and resistant to help that might enhance his or her overall health, caregivers often lose their patience and become very frustrated.
Understand the experience of your loved one as well and learn to communicate and empower.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Take the time to consider how you would feel with such adjustments and changes
- Recognize there is a loss. For example, it's not just the loss of the ability to drive; this loss may be symbolic of a loss of freedom and independence.
- Make sure that your loved one has duties and responsibilities to perform. Although it may take longer for the care recipient to dress himself or clean dishes, feeling useful and needed is important. Given the opportunity, he or she may even discover a new hobby or interest.
- Be careful not to help too much. Even if your loved one accepts your help, remember that when people are constantly taken care of they may lose their ability to make decisions. If you treat them like they are needy and helpless, they are likely to acquire those characteristics.
- Remember that your role is to help your loved one maintain control of his life, not for you to control it. The duties and roles you perform should always be an aid to the care recipient, not a representation of control. Avoid treating the care recipient as a child. Though his or her abilities may be limited, by confusing roles of parent and child you risk seriously damaging the care recipient's self-esteem and your relationship.
- Remind the care recipient that he or she is still a valuable member of the family. Show your loved one how much you appreciate who he or she is, not just what he does or what he did in the past. Perhaps he or she can no longer do what he used to, but encourage him or her to explore other duties or roles. For some this may be a focus on grandparenting, or it can even be a simple daily task like keeping up with the weather or news.
- Talk about how the care recipient's parents may have needed help. By considering how his parents depended on others, they may recognize that it is natural and normal to receive a little extra help as one ages. You may also want to discuss friends or family who are also in similar positions.
- Communicate with the care recipient about things that might affect his or her life. It's very important for the care recipient to know that his or her opinion is considered and valued.
- Don't treat your loved one differently. Just because they need extra help with housekeeping or paying bills does not mean that who they really are has changed. Continue to share and laugh as you did before you adopted these duties.