Caregiving for a loved one comes with no manual. More often than not, you’re forced to figure it out as you go. The start of a caregiving and receiving relationship creates a new dynamic - one that often feels uncomfortable at first. As you both adjust to your new roles in your relationship and individual lives, it’s important to ease any discomfort on either side as quickly as possible.
The person on the receiving end of care may feel that they don’t want to ask for (or don’t want to receive) the help they need. On the caregiving end, you may feel that it’s tough to initiate care in a way that’s comforting - relieving stress more often than creating it.
How can you show your loved one that it’s ok to ask for and take help?
The short answer to this question is to establish a new and intentional connection with your care recipient - one that reflects and respects the new positions you’ve taken in each other’s lives. Today’s article will explore some of the ways to do that - how to connect with your loved one within your new roles as caregiver and care recipient.
Embracing the new dynamic between caregiver and recipient is not only useful for making the job easier, but it can also make it more fulfilling: both for you and your loved one. There are tense moments in any caregiving situation, but establishing a strong connection can help bridge these gaps - creating a mutual respect and joy that adds meaning to each day. Here’s how to work together on connecting with your care recipient:
Spend some time with full focus on your loved one. Uninterrupted focus and attention (without cell phones, television screens, computers, etc.) will show your loved one that they are your number one priority. Make eye contact, maybe hold or stroke their hands, and sit facing them with your full attention. Even if it’s just for a short time, these bursts of total focus create respect. It’s a few minutes where your loved one doesn’t feel they are pulling you away from something (or someone) else. Moments where they feel less like a burden on you and instead, more like someone you are choosing to be around.
Actively listen to them. Communication between caregivers and the loved one in their care is often difficult. Misunderstandings, frustrations, and disagreements from time to time are inevitable. To ease the situation (and prevent many of them from happening in the first place), practice active listening. Make eye contact, ask further questions to encourage them to continue, avoid interrupting them, and repeat what you think they’re saying back to them to ensure understanding. Use phrases like, “So what I think you’re saying is [insert statement]. Is that correct?” or “It sounds like you’re asking me [insert their request here]. Did I get that right?” Not only will this improve your understanding of their thoughts and requests, but it also will help them feel heard, dignified, and important.
Give them space to tell stories. Taking care of a sick, aging, or ailing loved one is a demanding task. It goes without saying that being the sick, aging, or ailing person in need of care is also difficult. Though it’s the primary topic of thought, all conversations don’t need to be centered around their condition or how they’re feeling. Give them space to talk about their lives, tell stories, share passions, etc. Even if your loved one is no longer able to speak, offer them photos, videos, or music that light them up. This can help remind them that they are not their disease or ailment - they are a life, a human being with joys alongside the tribulations. By providing them with space to share and show positive emotion, you’ll both feel a higher sense of happiness, joy, and ultimately endorphins. This will strengthen your relationship through both the positive and more difficult moments.
Caregiving is physically and emotionally exhausting work. Creating a connection with your loved one in these new roles you find yourself in will provide deeper meaning, ultimately easing the stress on both you and your loved one through this transition.
Though this role comes with no manual, it follows a path well paved and supported by others in similar situations. Click here to find out more about how CRC OC can support you in your role as a caregiver. Our team works throughout Orange County to serve hundreds of families and caregivers of adults affected by chronic health and cognitive conditions.