You care for me and I care for you.

Nothing can replace the family relationships we develop as we journey through life. For better or worse, during the turbulence and richness of our experiences we develop deep connections with people we call family. Relationships made of sharing a history, seeing one another at our best and our worst. Knowing and being able to anticipate a reaction to something. We don’t always get on but somehow knowing family exists can feel good.

As we age, some family connections grow distant but some also closer. We don’t necessarily always want to spend time with our family.  During our lockdown, people were saying they didn’t realise how much they would miss their families. Is that because we took for granted being able to feely visit them? When it was taken away from us, we recognised the loss.

Family – Deep connections which, as we age, can be a comfort by knowing we are not alone.

Care home family is different; it’s transient with people more frequently joining and leaving the family home. A new member of the family may appear suddenly while another may leave less suddenly but with a finality.

We apply different rules for the care home family. Rules that still encourage the development of strong relationships and are similarly protective by helping us (people living in and working in) through the unpredictable changes of daily life.  But rules which recognise the transient reality in which we live.

We nurture relationships that help people feel at home; the alternative being a temporary hotel like life. Creating a family culture requires us to show people that we truly care. Achieving `family’ means giving of ourselves by showing compassion; helping people trust and believe in us.

Just saying we care without showing compassion is false. Faking compassion doesn’t work, it’s meaningless and dishonest. We must mean it and so we learn the skills required to build strong caring relationships; developing a bond, owning, and making true the commitment we give to each person. It’s a promise, “I won’t let you down, I will be true to you, you can rely on me.”

But it doesn’t end there. Family isn’t just about us (the care team) giving to the non-participatory recipient. Each person that lives with us is a member of the family, with rights of inclusion and involvement and as in any family relationship, enjoys sharing the giving. A family relationship is a two-way street. “You care for me and I care for you.”

“How are you today?”

“I’m very well thankyou and, how are you?”

That’s the expectation of family life for most of us which as we know, just like our own home, must be nurtured.

Where people live with dementia, and unreliable memory, the family culture is all the more important.

 “yesterday I sat with and comforted my friend in the chair next to me while she cried without knowing why. Today both she and I have forgotten the reason why we recognise one another but we share a closeness. We smile at one another and say hello”.

“I recognise my care worker – we developed a bond. There are two or three of them that come by at different times of the day and night.  I get their names muddled up but they just laugh and say it doesn’t matter and, it doesn’t matter, because they show that they like me and care about me – truly care about me. Reassured that I am cared for helps me live each day well. It feels loving.”

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GLORIA HAYNES
Associate Consultant and Trainer
MCM

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