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The Dynamics of Caregiver and Senior Relationships

The relationship between seniors and caregivers is a unique one; it relies on mutual trust and respect. It is not simply about caring for an individual by assisting them with ADLs, but about building a relationship with each other.

Often, caregivers and care receivers develop a deeply affectionate relationship. This comes as no surprise, given the intimate nature that caregiving entails. Yet, sometimes, the care giver/receiver relationship sparks some jealousy between the care receiver’s family and the caregiver.  While the caregiver provides care and support for a loved one, close relatives may feel envious of this new relationship that they are seemingly not part of.

Caregivers: A Part of the Family

When I used to visit my great grandmother in her nursing home, I was often touched by the deeply caring nature and admiration the caregivers had for her. I was even more surprised that she appeared to reflect the same sentiment in return, given her initial reluctance to receive care.

But when I gave it more thought, it made perfect sense. The nurses, while relatively strangers to me, were daily fixtures for my grandmother. They talked with her each day and shared stories about their families and loved ones — and maybe even a piece of candy or two.  They were no longer simply providing a service to her, but forming a connection with her. They were suddenly no longer caregivers, but also friends. Over time, her objection to accepting their help slowly melted away, and she became comfortable in her new environment.

While my family was able to realize how wonderful it was that my great grandmother’s caretakers appreciated spending time with her so much, in other instances and other families, there can be a bit of jealousy that develops over seniors’ friendships with caregivers. At times, relatives may feel insecure at how close the caregiver has become to their loved one. The intimate nature of their relationship makes some relatives feel as though they are being left out.

Happy Children, Jealous Wives

Frequently, those who are most hostile to a loved one’s new caregivers are those who are seemingly replaced in the process. Consider this story from a daughter whose mother feels jealous of her father’s new caregiver, Anne. Her father suffers from mild dementia and is wheelchair bound. After her mother struggled to care for him for 3 years, the daughter hired Anne to come in and relieve her. However, this has resulted in her mother feeling very jealous and wanting to fire Anne. Despite Anne’s complete professionality, she does such a great job assisting her husband that the wife feels left out. Her husband may have even developed a little crush on Anne. We have all heard about seniors abusing caregivers, but not so much about wives being jealous of their husbands’ caregivers.

However, these types of situations may arise more often than you think. Another daughter whose 76-year-old father is suffering from Parkinson’s disease hired in-home caregivers to come and care for her father. She was very happy with the care that her father was receiving.  Her 86-year-old stepmother, however, was extremely rude and hostile to the caregivers, fearing that they wanted her husband in a sexual way. While the caregivers are appreciated by the father and the daughter, the stepmother feels threatened and jealous of her husband’s caregivers; they are much younger than she, and are able to assist her husband in a way that she cannot.

Relationships Between Senior and Caregiver

We know that the relationship between caregiver and care recipient is an important one. In 2009, Utah State and Johns Hopkins University published a study that found that Alzheimer’s patients with close relationships to their caregivers had slower declines in their function and cognition than patients with more distant caregivers.  The slowed decline alongside a close caregiver is comparable to the effect of Alzheimer’s medications approved by the FDA. In a sense, feeling closer to their caregiver is equally as important as drugs in treating their condition.

This study is quite telling, as it captures the immeasurable importance of a good relationship between caregiver and care receiver. When a loved one has a caregiver who is good to them and who they like and enjoy, relatives should feel happy and grateful that they are benefitting from the nurturing services of a good caretaker, proven to improve health outcomes as elucidated above.

Nurse Together lists the 5 Qualities of Caregiver Excellence, which are empathy, dependability, patience, strength and flexibility. Empathy is an integral part of caregiving; caregivers must always consider the experience from the care recipient’s side and align their actions keeping that in mind.  Dependability is a must as seniors count on caregivers to be there to help with things that they can no longer do. Patience is key to caregiving as many senior patients struggle with slowed mental or physical capacity, and caregivers must be able to handle this. Strength is important for a caregiver as they must maintain their cool despite dealing with often distressing and saddening situations. They must be able to comfort others. And finally, caregivers must be flexible as they have to deal with quick changes, such as sudden hospitalizations, amended shifts, etc.

It is hard to understand how a care recipient wouldn’t have strong feelings of admiration for a person who exhibits all of these outstanding characteristics. However, it does not mean that they love them as their life partner, but as someone who helps them to keep going to continue to enjoy their lives with their life partner. The caregiver does not take the place of their loved ones but rather serves to ensure that they can be there for their loved ones. Caregivers deal with the unpleasantries of aging seniors so that loving relatives do not have to. Anyone whose relative has a fantastic caregiver; do not feel jealous, but instead happy, that they are staying upbeat and healthy with a caregiver who does their job like a class act.