Humans thrive when they have loving, interesting relationships. Friends and family support one another through difficult times and celebrate successes together. They share the joy of being close and the comfort of knowing another person well enough to just sit together in the quiet.
Unfortunately, growing older decreases a person’s opportunities to get together with friends and family. Increasing immobility might mean an older person cannot go to the usual places where they met up with friends and bumped into acquaintances, such as the grocery store, church, or neighborhood senior center. This decline in social contact can affect the person’s mental and physical health.
According to Colorado State University’s Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, “Emotionally gratifying relationships and the social and emotional support they provide buffer older adults against the challenges inherent in the aging process, such as negative health changes, changes in cognitive functioning, or possible social losses.” AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health found that, “having close ties to friends and family, as well as participating in meaningful social activities, may help keep your mind sharp and your memories strong.” Other research shows that social engagement creates positive changes in the brain that can help an older person navigate the health and intellectual decline that often accompany aging.
The client/caregiver relationship can be a lifeline for an older adult who has limited opportunities to leave home. The business arrangement of caregiving becomes more of a friendship for many of our clients and caregivers. The following entry into a recent care log illustrates one such relationship. In this case, the client has advanced dementia. The caregiver strives to give her opportunities to be creative and enjoy herself. (The names have been changed to protect their privacy.)
“Ava was surprised and happy to see me and gave me the biggest hug ever. She was in an extremely good mood today. We were not able to walk because of the heat, but we did some balloon volleys, and quite a number of dances to music to get some exercise. We practiced the hand signs for her two favorites – catch a falling star and what a wonderful world. At one point I started whistling to some tunes and she did too! I think it was the first time I heard her whistling! She was also proud to show me that she knew how to turn on the fan in the art room, maybe she was hot after the exercise? I brought a few projects with me – a wooden flower holder, a sketch of a Chinese boy on a hill, and a sketch of some wild flowers in a field. We did not get the wooden project finished, so we will leave that for next week, but we did get the base coat on it. We decided to do some watercolor on the Chinese boy and Ava did a really nice job picking and blending the colors and then I added the outline over it. Next we did acrylics on a canvas. It was a field of flowers that she likes because they were made out of dots. We added some strokes together (hand over hand), which made it look like aurora borealis in a way, a nice abstract. About 4:20 after lots of painting and tunes, she got a bit distracted painting a picture from her coloring book and then by wiping the paint with her fingers. As we were putting the supplies and paints away she got some red paint on her finger and started to put it on her lips or perhaps to taste? Maybe she thought it was lipstick or started as a joke or just being curious or silly! So we went to the kitchen to wash it off and get it off her teeth. That happened in about ten seconds when she was already pretty well done with any more art work, so maybe something to look out for in future so it wouldn’t get out of hand or in her mouth? Sandra (the next caregiver) helped her get clean while I did the rest of the supplies. Overall it was a good day and she was pulling us in for a group hug as I was leaving.”
This detailed running commentary of the caregiver’s time with the client is a beautiful example of the quality of their relationship. The caregiver knows her client and seeks experiences her client will enjoy and help her to exercise her body and mind. The caregiver treats her client with love and respect, while also watching out for her safety. “Ava” has a quality relationship with her caregiver, which helps her to flourish in her own home, despite the disabling dementia.