As parents age, their adult children often assume the role of caregiver. This may start slowly, with the adult child stopping by more frequently or assisting with tasks like mowing the lawn or picking up groceries. Over time, this role may grow. Adult children may find themselves helping with cleaning, meal preparation, and medication management. Regardless of how much help they may require, older adults are still adults who deserve respect and dignity.
Respect is defined as consideration or giving particular attention to a person or idea. In other words, respect views the person in question as a responsible adult who can make their own decisions. This is an essential component of home care for older adults. Whether you’re caring for an older loved one yourself or you’ve decided it’s time to find a professional caregiver to assist your loved one, it’s important to keep respect at the forefront of your mind. After all, you’re caring for a human being whose decades of life and experience still have much to offer everyone they encounter.
What exactly does it look like for a caregiver to show respect to the person they’re caring for? And what can you do to ensure that an older adult’s day-to-day life is filled with the love and utmost respect they deserve?
Why We Need to Respect Seniors When Assisting Them
The first thing to remember about older people is that they are adults who are entitled to privacy and to maintain certain confidential information. They are entitled to make their own decisions, and they have opinions and beliefs about many things. Whether you’re an adult child caring for an older parent or you’re working as a paid caregiver, there are important ways to respect elders while giving care. The following are reasons this respect is so crucial:
1. They Are Adults
We understand it can be scary to watch someone you love decline as they age. It’s important to remember that though they look older, move slower or are struggling with illness, the adult you’ve always known and loved is still there. By acknowledging this, you relieve yourself of the stress of managing their every move. You also show them they have value and intelligence that can — and should be — acknowledged.
Practically speaking, this may look different for everyone. For some, it may mean allowing an older adult to make decisions about their daily activities and care, even if they need help carrying them out. For example, this might mean encouraging older adults to speak to their doctors without jumping in to the conversation. For others, it may mean allowing older adults the freedom to do the things they love and assisting them with those activities when they have trouble, such as preparing a meal together or watching movies they love. In all cases, it means listening to them when they express thoughts or opinions.
2. They Deserve to Be Heard
Being heard is an important human need. Because some older adults speak softly or struggle to speak clearly, caregivers may have to listen more intently to hear what they say. Listening to older adults when they express thoughts and opinions is an essential component of demonstrating empathy and respect toward older people. It may take some patience while they search for the words or diverge from the conversation topic, but fully listening to them allows you to afford them respect as the caregiver. It also provides some insight into their needs on any given day.
Listening isn’t only about hearing the words an older adult speaks. As a caregiver, it’s essential that you pay attention to their body language and the context of their words. For example, if an older adult is complaining because they don’t like the food they’re eating, what they may really be saying is that the foods they love don’t taste the same as they used to or perhaps they don’t like eating alone. Or, if an older adult is less talkative than usual or struggling to find words, there may be a growing medical issue that should be investigated. Paying attention to these signals can help caregivers identify health problems that may require medical treatment, such as unwanted side effects from medications or new health issues that arise.
3. They Deserve to Maintain Their Dignity
Depending on their needs, many older adults require help with daily activities they used to take for granted, such as brushing their teeth, bathing, dressing and eating. Though they can’t complete these tasks on their own, they do not need to feel shame for requiring help. Find ways to maintain dignity and respect in these situations.
For example, a caregiver should approach a bath or shower with this focus in mind. Keep a robe and extra towels on hand to cover up during and immediately after showering. Allow the older adult to do as much as they can before you provide assistance. This might mean allowing them to put their shirt on themselves and doing the buttons or zipper for them.
If an older adult can still brush their teeth or bathe on their own, allow them to retain as much independence as possible. This enables them to maintain their dignity at a time where they feel they are losing some of their privacy. It isn’t easy to suddenly have someone around all the time helping with tasks. Some well-meaning caregivers may also hover, refusing to allow older adults to pick up after themselves, fix a sandwich or run errands.
Research has shown that encouraging older adults to engage in activities that stimulate their brain and body is essential to good cognitive health. As long as there is not a medical or physical reason that an activity may be dangerous, encourage older adults to engage in whatever activities they are able to manage. Allow them to prepare simple meals, walk through a store to shop for new shoes or clothing, and encourage them to take a short walk.
4. They Have Hobbies and Interests
Even if an older adult has physical limitations, it’s important to help them engage in the hobbies and activities that they love. For example, a person may no longer be physically capable of kneeling in an outdoor garden and planting things, but they can water and care for potted plants indoors. Or, perhaps you are caring for an adult who used to run and swim and dance, but they now have many physical limitations. Helping them engage in light physical activity as approved by their doctor is important to help them feel like they are still pursuing what is important to them.
If you are a child or spouse of an older adult, it’s important to continue to address them as you would have when they were younger. Children should speak to their parents with respect and refer to their parent as “Mom” or “Dad,” or the term of endearment they chose as children. This maintains their role in the family hierarchy and affords parents the degree of respect they deserve.
Professional caregivers should refrain from using endearments such as “honey” or “sweetie.” Instead, they should call their client “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” unless the client requests to be called by their first name. Caregivers should also be mindful of cultural differences. For example, in some Asian cultures, an older adult may be referred to as “Mother” or “Father” rather than their first name. This is a sign of respect that their family can instruct you on if necessary.
A professional caregiver is there to help and form a close relationship with an older client, and they should show respect through their mannerisms. For example, maintaining eye contact when speaking with a client and shaking hands when you arrive at their home is important. Standing when they enter a room or using “please” and “thank you” also go a long way.
5. Their Confidential Information Needs to Be Protected
Sometimes there may be a team of doctors, caregivers and family members all involved in taking care of one older adult. Remember that discretion is key when caring for an older adult. They are entitled to medical and personal privacy and deserve to maintain a sense of control over what information is shared with certain people. If you’re a family member, this means using discretion in what you share with others in the family. If you think there are things that need to be shared, ask permission before you start making phone calls and sending text messages.
If you are a paid caregiver, the expectation of privacy is even more important. Many older people don’t have a lot of interaction with other people on a daily basis, so they are likely to share a lot with you. It’s important to protect their privacy by not sharing everything they tell you with their family members or other clients. At times, you may find yourself their confidant as they struggle with overprotective relatives or fears about the future. Providing them a caring ear is important, but it’s also important that you don’t share their fears and concerns with others. This is an essential component of being respectful to clients.
It’s also important not to make a medical diagnosis if you are not a medical professional who has been hired for this purpose. As a professional caregiver, you know a lot about how to recognize problems and what happens when those issues come up. However, your job is to reassure your client and communicate with your employer if you have any concerns.
For example, you may notice that your client is struggling with the times they are alone. Rather than suggesting they move into an assisted living facility, continue to find ways to make things easier for them at home and report your findings to your employer. There are proper channels in place to ensure your client stays safe while still maintaining their privacy.
5. They Need Reliable Care
If you’re providing care to an older adult, it’s essential that you are reliable. If you say you will visit, you should show up on time and be ready for whatever the day holds. If you’re unavoidably delayed, place a call to your older family member or client to inform them of the delay. Being a reliable caregiver helps you establish a rapport with the person you’re caring for. It also shows them that they are valuable and worth your time and effort. This can go a long way toward showing a client they are worthy of respect and attention.
Showing up is about more than punctuality. Dress for the day’s activities. If you’re a family member helping a caregiver, dress neatly and cleanly. Avoid revealing clothing or clothes that may be difficult to launder if they are stained while cleaning or helping your older loved one. If you are a professional caregiver, wear the uniform that is required by your agency. Be sure to arrive in a uniform that is freshly laundered and free from wrinkles and stains.
How Caregivers Can Help Clients Maintain Dignity and Privacy
Professional caregivers can play an important role in empowering elders during home care in their later years. Many families get to a point where they can no longer care for an older relative on their own. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, hiring a caregiver to provide care for your loved one is a sign of strength and a wonderful gesture of love.
Older adults deserve love and respect from anyone they encounter. When hiring a caregiver, it’s important to find someone who has a reputation for treating the elderly with respect and dignity at all times. Serving areas in south Florida, Active Senior Care is an AHCA Licensed Nurse Registry providing referrals for in-home and companion care services. We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients, as well as the nurses we recommend, in order to find the right fit every time.
Among our many services, we can provide referrals for Alzheimer’s and Dementia care, personal care, respite care, 24-hour and overnight care, and Parkinson’s care. Call 786-360-3449 or fill out our online form today for a free consultation.