Family caregivers exist on the support of a schedule and a solid routine. And, that routine can become very routine for the caregiver and their aging parent.
Necessary changes in care needs and care routines can be neglected when a caregiver is so entrenched in routine that they become unaware of the changing needs of their aging parents. Practicing mindful awareness can sharpen caregiving skills while improving relationships with aging parents.
Lack of awareness may seem like a strange flaw to ascribe to home caregivers. After all, a caregiver must maintain a high degree of awareness in order to help Mom get dressed, see that she takes every last one of her pills, take her to the constant doctor’s appointments, keep her cheered up and entertained, cook meals for her and the rest of the family, do the laundry, and clean the house.
Yet sometimes a specific kind of unawareness can creep in, especially in a relationship between two people who have known each other for a long time and even more especially in a relationship in which one is a caregiver and one a care receiver. It’s not unusual for home caregivers to experience a kind of low level unawareness in which they see many things on the surface clearly but don’t pick up on deeper issues: they are aware, not but totally mindful.
Routines can breed unawareness.
Routine becomes very important for many home caregivers, and with good reason: maintaining a routine is the only way to accomplish everything that must get done. Sometimes, however, this means that a caregiver may not pay enough attention or hear clearly when a loved one tells him or her about a problem. Anxious to move on to the next task, a caregiver may think, “That’s just Dad feeling grumpy” or “Grandma feels that way because she can’t see the bigger picture.”
In fact, Dad or Grandma may have very strong feelings about the matter that is being dismissed. Whether a senior’s interpretation of facts is correct, the issue still may be very important to him or her. When feelings are dismissed in this way, an older loved one may feel rejected, sad, angry or disconsolate, and may react in a number of ways that can have negative consequences, such as:
- Not talking. If your wife feels she is not going to be listened to, she may stop introducing subjects, sometimes even failing to discuss important health issues.
- Feeling depressed. A proper outlook is important for a person who is ill; depression can have a significant impact on health outcomes.
- Displacing feelings. If Grandfather believes that he has not been listened to, he may (consciously or unconsciously) act in a contrary manner: not “hearing” you when you call so that you have to walk upstairs to get him, going slower than usual when you are in a hurry, dropping his fork repeatedly at the dinner table, etc.
Who has time?
Home caregivers often throw up their hands at the idea that they need to take even more time (that they don’t have) to be more actively aware. It’s true that this is time consuming, but it can have positive results. By actively listening to Mom’s complaints, we may discover a way to help her that will make her much happier. Really paying attention to Dad’s complaints about his pains may make us aware that he’s talking about a new ailment, rather than the same one that has been plaguing him for years.
Best of all, mindful awareness means that we truly communicate, and that only helps to strengthen the bonds between caregivers and aging parents.
It takes time, but practicing awareness is well worth the effort.