Supportive Care Bulletin
Helpful tips for family caregivers
December 2022/January 2023
Every family has painful memories. Some so hurtful that relatives aren’t talking. People who have the courage to ask for forgiveness, and those who have the courage to grant it, often say they regret the years they have lost. Consider the perspectives offered in our first article on making amends. As a follow-up to our earlier article on teens coping with a grandparent’s dementia, our middle article offers advice for addressing the concerns of young children. Last, we look at the intensely uncomfortable but common problem of dry eye syndrome. There are simple ways to ease the irritation.
Healing torn relations
Take any roomful of people and likely two-thirds of them have relatives who aren’t talking to each other. Families are messy. Hurts abound. Some people wait until a serious diagnosis to reconcile. They often regret the years of separation they can never retrieve. Others try forgiveness earlier in the process. There’s no right or wrong. Simply who has the courage—and when—to either give or request forgiveness.
Giving forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean you approve of what someone did. According to the Stanford Forgiveness Project, people forgive because they want to take control of their life story. Instead of seeing themselves as a victim laboring under significant hurts from the past, they decide to focus on what’s working in the present and the possibilities for the future.
Perhaps your parent was abusive. Or abandoned the family. Or was utterly self-involved. Whatever the cause, you experienced pain—emotional, and perhaps physical. The journey to forgiveness includes understanding (and accepting) that living involves pain. It’s what you do with your pain that makes you the person you are. Doubtless, your past has influenced your life intentions—for instance, deciding not to repeat the pattern. Embracing that goal, you can turn a negative experience into something more than grief.
You may come to accept that the person who inflicted the pain was likely in pain themselves at the time. Perhaps they were not as mature as they might have been. And maybe they even regret their actions now, years later. By extending empathy and forgiveness, you may find greater inner peace on your own journey. You have the opportunity to heal an old wound and maybe even create new and positive memories with someone significant from your past.
Asking for forgiveness. Perhaps it is you who did something unkind in the past and would like to reconcile. It takes courage to ask for forgiveness. The first step is to be honest about the relationship damage you caused. By all means be compassionate with yourself about your abilities at the time. But when talking to someone you hurt, just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Name and acknowledge your poor choices and actions that caused pain. Then ask for forgiveness. Expect to spend some time listening, humbly and attentively, as your relative shares their experience. At some point, you can ask, “How can we move forward together?” Your family member may or may not be willing. But at least you mended a part of yourself and your history and can move forward better on your own.Return to top
Dementia and small children
The grandparent–grandchild relationship can be precious, like no other. But even young children notice if Grandma or Grandpa isn’t acting the way they used to, or the same way others do. And they will have questions. “Why does he keep calling me by Dad’s name?” “She just asked that question five minutes ago!”
Respond to them honestly. Keep it simple and age appropriate. Children under age two may feel scared. Reassure them. “Grandpa has a boo-boo on his brain that made that happen. He still loves you.” For those ages two to six, you might embellish: “Grandma has a sickness that’s affecting her brain and making it hard for her to think well.” School-age children (six to twelve) can understand that their grandparent has a disease that “messes up the brain, tangling all the thinking cells.”
Provide simple reassurance. All children need to know that the disease is not contagious and that their relative’s behavior is not their fault. You may need to remind them often.
Validate feelings. Your child may be upset by the unusual behaviors. They may sense your distress or be jealous of your attention. Let them know that sometimes you too are worried, even frustrated or angry. Give them the opportunity to share their feelings. Talk about healthy ways to cope. Check with a librarian for a helpful children’s book. If you notice acting-out behaviors or withdrawal from usual activities, consider professional help.
Suggest realistic activities both will enjoy. Maybe listening to music or singing. Planting flowers or weeding a garden. Doing arts and crafts. Taking a walk or sitting outside to enjoy nature. Looking at photo albums. Having a picnic. Storytelling. Holding hands.
Never put a child in charge to “babysit.” That is far more responsibility than they can handle. It’s not safe for them, nor for the person you care for.Return to top
Dry eye syndrome
Our eyes show us the world. If something goes wrong with them, it can affect our total well-being. Dry eye syndrome makes eyes feel gritty, burning, itchy, and sensitive—discomforts that are hard to ignore! It typically manifests with age and affects as many as 30% of older adults.
What to do if your loved one has these symptoms: First, visit the eye doctor to understand the exact cause and identify any medications that are contributing to the problem. Then, try some proven soothing remedies:
- Warm compresses. Place a warm washcloth over your relative’s eyes for five minutes twice a day, pressing gently at the base of the eyelashes. Reheat the washcloth whenever it gets cold. The water hydrates the eyes and the heat loosens oils in the eyelashes that can build up and interfere with tears.
- Baby shampoo. The doctor may recommend massaging baby shampoo gently along the eye lashes to cleanse them more thoroughly.
- Eye drops. Over-the-counter “artificial tears” can help, but avoid those designed to eliminate redness. Better are eye drops that come in small individual-dose containers. These drops lack preservatives and can be used five times a day or more.
- Eye ointments. Ointments last longer than drops in terms of lubrication, but they make vision blurry. Save ointments for nighttime use.
- More fluids. More water consumed means more moisture for the eyes.
- Adding moisture to the air, especially in winter, reduces the likelihood of the eyes drying out.
- Change contacts. Daily disposables may be less irritating to the eyes. Or change to glasses now and then.
- Wraparound sunglasses. These can help reduce the evaporation of tears if your loved one spends time outdoors in wind and sun.
- Less screen time. Try the 20/20/20 rule. Have your loved one get up every 20 minutes for 20 seconds, stretch, and focus on something at least 20 feet away.