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Provide care while ensuring dignity


Helping a person receiving care keep their personal dignity is one of the most important parts of being a caregiver. This article offers useful ways for the caregiver to make sure that they are treating the older person receiving care with respect and allowing them to keep as much dignity as possible within the caregiving scenario.

Dignity in caregiving

Helping a person receiving care keep their personal dignity is one of the most important parts of being a caregiver. However, it can also be one of the most challenging parts. Stressed and exhausted caregivers can begin to view the person receiving care as an object to be dealt with instead of as a person with a right to dignity. In many cases, this is especially true when an older person’s declining mental or physical health can lead them to behave in undignified ways.

No matter what the situation, however, all humans deserve to retain their dignity and be treated with respect. The caregiver, who often has a great deal of power over the person they are caring for, must strive to use that power honorably by doing what they can to behave respectfully. 

Put yourself in the person’s shoes

It is easy to grow frustrated with people who seem resistant, ungrateful, or critical. Though it might be natural for an overwhelmed caregiver to develop a “get the job dealt with” attitude, they need to work hard to separate out their feelings about caregiving from their feelings about the person they are caring for. Taking a minute or two to imagine how the person must be feeling can go a long way to easing frustration. 

The fact that a person is in a position of needing care means they have lost at least some of their abilities, freedom, and control over their lives. Many are largely helpless over their own bodies and life situation, and some are in a state of discomfort or pain. These realities could cause almost anyone to be frightened, sad, and defensive. Yet, people tend to hide their more vulnerable emotions behind protective ones such as criticism and controlling behavior. 

The caregiver can turn resentment or impatience to sympathy and admiration by imagining themselves dealing with the same fears, loss of independence, and in some cases physical pain as the person they are caring for. This will help them see through frustrating behavior to the person’s courage and vulnerability.

Ask before acting

Before handling a person, making a meal, moving possessions around, or even cleaning, the caregiver should ask the person if it is okay for them to do so. They should think about what they would do if they walked into a friend’s home. Certainly they would not physically manipulate the friend, start cleaning their kitchen, or make them food without asking if those actions were welcome.

Let the person make their own decisions, if they are able

A big part of dignity is being able to make one’s own choices. For the person being cared for, some of this ability has already been taken away by their frailty, mental decline, or illness. It is important for the caregiver to honorably allow the person to make those choices that are left to them, including what to wear, watch on TV, or eat, etc. If their choices about eating might be dangerous to their health, the caregiver can offer a few different options, so that the person still has some sense of independence. 

If conflicts over diet, medication, and hygiene continue, it can be a good idea for the caregiver to hand these conversations over to doctors or other medical professionals. People being cared for often find that getting directives from an authority figure, such as a doctor, is less threatening to their self-respect than being told what to do by a spouse, adult child, or family member.

Include the person in conversations

It is common for caregivers to begin talking to medical professionals and others in front of the person being cared for, as if the person isn’t there. They may be doing this out of impatience, because they don’t think the person can hear or understand them, or simply to make sure that information is communicated quickly and correctly. No matter what their reason is, though, the person is likely to feel ignored and devalued.  

To treat the person with dignity, caregivers need to make a point of including them in conversations and decisions. Steps such as asking the person’s opinion about decisions, letting them take the lead in conversations, and listening with interest will help the person being cared for feel acknowledged, valued, and dignified.

Respect the person’s privacy and modesty

Privacy and modesty are essential components of a person’s dignity. Much of this can be stripped away by the need to be bathed, checked up on, helped to the toilet, and so on. This is all the more reason for the caregiver to work hard at allowing the person for whom they are caring to keep as much privacy and modesty as they have left. 

The caregiver should always knock at the bedroom or bathroom door before entering, and should wait for a response rather than just walking in. They should close the door when providing care. If the person can be left in the bathroom on their own, the caregiver should step out until needed again.

It is also important for the caregiver to keep the person’s body covered as much as possible, which they can do by putting a towel or sheet over parts that they aren’t washing and draping a towel over the person’s legs while they’re on the toilet. 

To help the person preserve their privacy, a caregiver should never talk about confidential information with other people without asking for and receiving permission first.

Related information

Anticipate impacts on your personal life

Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable 

Balance care responsibilities

Create a care plan

Deal with caregiver burnout

Deal with caregiver depression

Find trusted sources of help

Get help and support

Join a caregiver community

Manage resistance to care

Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration

Take care of yourself emotionally

Take care of yourself physically

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