December 3, 2018

When you see someone you love facing a challenge, it’s only natural to want to step in and help. But can there be a point where you’re actually taking on too much, and creating a different sort of trouble for the person you’re trying to care for?

When it comes to elder care, this is a situation that happens more often than you might think.

Many adult children of seniors see their parents struggling, and feel compelled to help. And while a little bit of support and guidance is often essential for older adults, it’s important to remember that there is a big difference between doing things with someone, and doing things for them.

AARP’s Barry Jacobs put it well. Here’s his story:

“During the years I provided loving care for my mother, I learned that helping her too much created its own set of problems… I thought it was my duty to do all I could to take care of her every need and keep her safe from harm. But as I made her dinner three nights a week, organized her pill box and straightened up her apartment, she wasn’t more contented; she seemed unhappy. With all my best intentions and concerted energies, I mostly succeeded in curbing her independence and squelching her spirit. She didn’t see me as her caring son so much as the overbearing usurper of roles she cherished.

If I had done nothing at all for her, then I believe she would have floundered. But I finally realized that by doing too much for her, I trampled her dignity.”

Ultimately, it is important for family and professional caregivers to strike the right balance, between doing too much and too little. Too much interference, and you might make your parent or relative feel like their wants and needs don’t matter. You may actually be suppressing the independent spirit that you’re trying to cultivate and support. In the long run, this could negatively impact your loved one’s self-esteem and overall wellbeing.

So, what can you do as a loving caregiver to help your loved ones remain happy, healthy, and independent, without overstepping or hurting their morale? As Jacobs puts it, it may really come down to “providing them with the right amount of support to optimize their functioning.”

Here are five ideas for putting this important idea into action:

Provide Social and Emotional Support

One of the most important and impactful things you can do for your aging loved one is to help them feel socially connected and engaged. Over the years, research has shown that staying social can help older adults stay physically active and mentally sharp. Being social has also been shown to help older adults live longer, while reporting greater levels of happiness, fulfillment, and personal independence.

In short? A little bit of friendship can go a long way for your older loved ones. From sharing a meal a few times a week, to hosting a regular phone call, to playing board games or card games together, to driving your loved one to religious gatherings or community meetings, there are all sorts of ways that you can help the senior in your life feel more connected, leading to enormous health and wellness benefits.

Empower the Senior to Follow Their Strengths

The AARP encourages caregivers to “steer [your older relative] to her strengths.” In other words, put the emphasis on what your loved one can do, and help them do it, rather than putting all of your focus on what they cannot do. For instance, if your loved one cannot cook a full meal independently, you can still help them feel involved by having them set the table, or help dry dishes afterwards. If your loved one’s eyesight or motor skills make it difficult to write letters, steer them instead towards making phone calls with loved ones.

Similarly, you may wish to put an emphasis on the activities that you and your loved one can do together, such as gardening, doing laundry, decorating for holidays, and so on. For older adults, being involved in housekeeping, even to a lesser degree, has been shown to help increase feelings of self-esteem and improve overall quality of life

Assist the Senior in Meeting Their Health Goals

Another important task you can take on is to assist your loved one in meeting their health goals. Here, a professional caregiver, such as a non-medical home companion, can be of great help. In this role, you or your professional caregiver, can help interface with medical professionals on your loved one’s behalf, helping to make sure that they stay current on their plan of care. Even more broadly, you or a professional companion can help encourage and assist your senior with exercise, healthy eating, and staying up to date with medications. Meeting these goals can help your loved one to remain healthier for longer, allowing them to live more independently.

Empower the Senior to Stay Mentally Sharp

Rather than taking over everything for your senior loved one, think about the ways that you can  help stimulate them mentally. There are lots of things you can can do to help your aging loved one stay mentally sharp and active. This could mean helping provide your loved one with games and puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudoku. It could mean as much (or as little) as going over old photo albums, or simply holding a nice one-on-one conversation. And remember that diet and exercise can contribute greatly to helping your older loved one stay both mentally and physically sharp.

Listen to, and Honor, the Senior’s Wishes

At all times, it’s important to remember not to take over things completely for your loved one. There is no room in caregiving for a “my way or the highway” mentality, no matter how tempting it might sometimes be to take on this attitude. Remember to listen to and respect your elder’s wants and needs – within reason, of course. The AARP offers a few helpful guidelines, reminding caregiver to not “jump in with help too quickly,” and to always make sure that you and your senior loved one have a clear plan of care in place, so that all parties can feel like they’re on the same page.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the goal of caregiving isn’t to take over for your loved one, but to help them continue to do the things they love, for as long as possible. It’s about providing a framework that supports them, so that they can live life freely and to the fullest.

How Companions for Seniors Can Help

At Companions for Seniors, we provide companionship and care for seniors in the comfort and security of their own homes. We believe that support and friendship can help empower the elderly to live life to the fullest, without having to uproot and move into expensive, institutional care.

All of our Companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help work with your family to develop a personalized care plan for your loved one. We believe in helping seniors to maintain a higher quality of life physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We’ll help the older adult in your life to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, by connecting them with their community and nurturing meaningful relationships.

We believe in fostering an open dialogue and sharing ideas; always going the extra mile with our services; and providing flexible care at the right price for every household.

Do you have a loved one who you believe could benefit from non-medical home care? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today to get the conversation started.