Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Family caregiving: when relationships add to the challenge

We’ve been discussing some of the most challenging aspects of family caregiving here among our team and we’re convinced that the relationship shift is probably right at the top.

Shifting from spouse and equal partners to care provider and recipient must be incredibly difficult. I know from my own experience that shifting from autonomous parent-adult child relationship to one where the parent is dependent on the child for care is challenging and disconcerting.

What about when one sibling sees the parent as smiling, happy and capable (the face she presents to them) while another sees a despondent, helpless elder (the face presented to sibling #2).

Then there’s the daughter that feels the need to resolve issues from childhood with a parent before it’s too late; issues that bring up long-buried feelings of anger, pain and helplessness.

I remember Emma who, suffering with advanced dementia, needed physical reassurance almost continually throughout the day. She’d hug us frequently, hold our hands and, in general, give and accept physical affection. I didn’t think much of it until one day her daughter came into my office and told me, “I don’t remember my mother ever hugging me as a child. She simply did not do that – ever.” It broke my heart to realize that this warm, loving woman had lived so many years of her life unable to give or receive affection from those closest to her.

As we’re working on creating materials to train and support family caregivers we’re curious: what’s the biggest relationship challenge you’ve experienced in caregiving? How did you resolve this challenge – how did it affect the caregiving experience?

Share your experiences with us, if you would. We’ll pass on what we’re learning.

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