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Caregiving and Connection

STRENGTHENING RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN CAREGIVERS AND LOVED ONES

By Antonia Servat
 Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Director of Operations at the Masonic Center for Youth and Families

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When you begin caring for a senior family member, the process and change in relationship dynamics can feel overwhelming, both for you and for the family member whom you are supporting. It is important to approach each interaction with patience and empathy, giving all parties the space to make mistakes, adjust, and grow. Here are some tips for building connections and positive outcomes within the caregiving relationship.

ESTABLISH A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT

When speaking with loved ones about challenging topics, focus on your love and respect. Begin conversations only when you are able to do so compassionately and with patience. Speak slowly and kindly. When upsets arise, be reassuring and calm. If anyone becomes irritated or frustrated, take a break. It can be helpful to redirect the conversation, even temporarily. Try: “Let’s enjoy a cup of tea, and we will come back to this later,” to acknowledge the conflict without placing blame.

OFFER CHOICES AND FLEXIBILITY

No one wants to feel as though they are being ordered around – especially seniors who have lived a lifetime of independence. Let loved ones know that you respect their opinions. Whenever possible, present options and let them make a decision. Use “I” language, rather than “you” language to avoid seeming bossy. For example, rather than saying, “You need to air out your room,” try “Let’s get some fresh air into this room – that will feel so nice. Would you prefer the living room or bedroom window to be opened?”

SEEK WAYS TO CONNECT

It may sometimes seem difficult to connect with elder family members, particularly if their memory is declining. Keep things light and offer opportunities to laugh together – telling silly jokes is an easy way to create shared humor. Reminiscing together can be a wonderful tool for communication. Remind your loved ones of happy times you spent together, or encourage them to share a beloved childhood memory.

BUILD COMPASSION

If you find yourself becoming frustrated with senior family members, imagine situations from their perspective. What challenges might they be experiencing? What worries might be influencing their responses. Complete the sentence: “She must worry about…” or “It must not be easy to…” For example: “She’s being so apathetic. It must not be easy for her without her friends around.”

ENLIST HELP

Even if you are a primary caregiver, you cannot support loved ones alone. Meet with your family doctor to discuss care needs and address any concerns. Identify trusted neighbors, family members, or friends who can be on call for assistance. The best time to create a supportive framework is before you need it.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

It is easy for family caregivers to be so concerned with their loved one’s health that they begin to neglect their own. Give yourself time and a safe space to process all that you are experiencing – additional work, role-reversal, or other feelings dealing with loss, guilt, or even resentment. Seek the assistance of a caregiver support group or therapist. And, research respite care services for when you are ill or need a break.

SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

It is natural to want loved ones to have the best possible support and resources. But, it is important to give seniors as much control over their own life as possible. As long as they are not endangering themselves or others, let them make their own choices. Feeling independent will make your loved one happier. Allow yourself to accept limits on what you can control, and focus your energy on supporting loved ones to live on their own terms. Embrace the idea of “good enough care” – a combination of the supportive services you would like to see in place for your loved one and what that they are willing to accept.

The Masonic Homes of California has cared for Masonic family members for more than 100 years. Throughout that time, it has evolved into an organization that provides comprehensive support to Masonic families at every stage of life through best practice focused, patient-centered care. As a richly multigenerational organization, it is likely that at some point in our lives, we will all care for, or receive care from, a family member or loved one. Through articles like this one, the Masonic Homes experienced professional staff provides guidance, insight, and support.

More from this issue:

Standing the Test of Time

The archives of the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry in San Francisco contain more than 100 years’ worth of significant Masonic artifacts.

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