By Maureen Rulison
Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC
Being a care partner for an aging loved one is a noble yet challenging role that requires oodles of patience and understanding. Are you a compassionate care partner?
Caregiving can push beyond human limits. Compassion can be hard to find. Self-doubt is common. Unchecked, emotions can sour into resentment.
As a care partner, you make a big difference for a loved one with diminished abilities to care for themselves. Some may be able to live mostly independent lives. Others may require 24/7 management of daily activities like eating, taking meds and toileting.
Many caregivers mistakenly believe they – and only they – are willing or able to take on the role. (I’ve been there.) They think only if they’re sacrificing and suffering is the only way to be an effective caregiver. But by nurturing a compassionate and supportive environment for your loved one – and just as importantly, yourself – you improve quality of life for everyone!
Want to Be a More Compassionate Care Partner? Ask Yourself These Questions
1. Do You Practice Empathy?
Empathy is the foundation of compassionate caregiving. Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and understand their needs, emotions and perspectives. They may call out in the middle of the night for a glass of water or help using the restroom. They may need your help getting to the doctor’s office when you have other plans.
Do you empathize with those needs? Do you consider that they would give anything to care for themselves as they once did? Would you be embarrassed always needing help? That’s often how THEY feel. True empathy requires understanding.
- Listen actively
- Show genuine concern
- Validate their emotions
Even a simple gesture of holding their hand or offering a comforting hug shows empathy and love.
2. Do You Communicate Well?
It’s amazing how effective communication remedies so many aspects of life. It helps with parenting, work, marriages – and elder caregiving. Communicating well as a care partner is crucial for a compassionate relationship.
Do you speak a language of softness and understanding? Do you create a safe and non-judgmental space where your loved one feels comfortable expressing? Do you advocate for your own physical and emotional health? Are they encouraged to share their stories and memories and to participate meaningfully in conversations?
Regularly check in about their well-being and ask how you can best support them.
3. Do You Learn & Adapt Well?
Most caregivers enter the role with little to no knowledge of elder caregiving, especially medical necessities. Even health professionals with vast expertise get stumped. Every individual is unique, and their needs evolve over time. Care best practices and conventional knowledge also evolve, too. By embracing continual learning and growth, we build our skills and provide the best possible care.
Do you attend workshops, seminars or online courses related to elder care? Do you read books or articles to expand your knowledge base? What’s more compassionate than knowing how to care the right way?
4. Do You Seek Resources & Support?
Some of the worst caregivers think they must trek alone. There may be some legitimate reasons: protective instincts, caregiver guilt, financial issues, desiring privacy, etc. Some reasons border on paranoid or even narcissistic: sibling rivalry, unhealthy competition, fear of strangers, etc.
Do you seek (and accept) help? Do you recognize one person couldn’t possibly handle it all? Do you accept there are areas outside your comfort zone or areas of expertise? Overwhelmed caregivers care poorly – and some even make soulless decisions. Consult with healthcare professionals, social workers or elder care agencies for guidance and direct assistance.
5. Do You Respect Their Dignity & Independence?
As a care partner, it’s essential to honor your loved one’s dignity and independence. Even if it’s no longer safe for them to be driving or using the stairs, they’re still human and entitled to freedom and joy.
Do you encourage their participation in decision-making? Do you offer choices whenever possible, whether it’s about daily routines, clothing preferences or leisure activities? Treat them with kindness, patience and respect. Recognize their individuality. If they don’t want to talk, don’t make them. If they can’t eat, don’t get angry and force them. If they desire space, provide a venue for alone time.
6. Do You Respect Your Own Dignity & Independence?
You’re also an individual. Maintaining your dignity means recognizing and valuing your own worth. Be kind to yourself.
You’re not defined solely by your role as a caregiver but as a unique individual with your own desires, dreams and rights. Care recipients may indeed be demanding, condescending or even mean. They’re humans with their own moral compass, right or wrong.
But do you maintain control over your own decision-making, even amidst the challenges of caregiving? If not, you have the right to discuss changes.
7. Do You Prioritize Self-Care?
Similarly, respecting your own dignity and independence as a care partner isn’t selfish. It’s a necessary act of self-care. To be a compassionate caregiver, you must prioritize your own well-being. If you’re not well yourself, you can’t care for anyone!
Do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally? Do you take time to refill your cup? Do you engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation? You HAVE TO carve out that time for yourself, even if it’s just to walk for fresh air or listen to music while cooking.
8. Do You Practice Mindfulness?
Mindfulness helps you stay present in the caregiving journey. Take a moment each day to be fully present with your loved one and with yourself, without distractions.
Do you practice deep breathing, meditation or other mindfulness techniques to center yourself and reduce stress? Being mindful allows you to appreciate the precious moments you share with your loved one and respond with kindness and compassion.
Become a More Compassionate & Loving Care Partner Today
Your commitment to your loved one’s well-being has a profound impact on the twilight of your loved one’s life. Embrace the opportunity to be a source of love, comfort and support. While caregiving is a journey that requires compassion, empathy and resilience, caregiving mustn’t come at the expense of your own independence and well-being. Half of being a compassionate care partner is being compassionate for yourself!
Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC is here to help! We have over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning and can help you and your loved one build a plan that honors everyone’s wishes and needs.