SYNERGY HomeCare of La Mesa Blog by Kassandra A. King on Caregiving Relationships


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I-Thou Relationships in Caregiving

Human beings are whole human beings at all ages and during all stages of life, and having some form of dementia does not change our basic desires.  Throughout our years, we seek validation of our physical and emotional needs. We have feelings from the moment we are delivered from the womb until the moment we receive our last breath. From the beginning of life, we seek to love and be loved, for this is the essence and the truth of who we are here to be.  Our emotional needs lay waiting to be fulfilled day after day as we interact with others. Throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s disease simple pleasures, like that of a gentle touch and an understanding tone of voice, bring reassurance that we still belong.

German philosopher Martin Buber wrote of human interaction based on relationships structured as either  “I and Thou” or “I and It.”  The word thou is rarely used in modern speech, yet the concept of  I–Thou communication is compellingly beautiful. Using thou evokes a sense of willing submission to a loving and powerful presence.  Thou can be replaced with the word “you” to demonstrate a relationship in which both persons are equals.  In a loving human to human encounter, we regard the other as an equal, despite a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.  Unfortunately, often the person with Alzheimer’s or related dementia becomes non-equal, sometimes even regarded as non-human.   Buber refers to this as the “I–It” relationship.

As a society, we tend to treat persons with dementia as less than a whole human being;  we do our communicating from the “I-It” model.  Loving caregivers often become so overwhelmed with responsibility that we slip into the “I-It” mode without realizing we have done so.  Thinghood is the opposite of personhood. 

When caught in the busy 1-2-3, get it done work style, the caregiver to resident interaction becomes I–It, turning a human being into a non-feeling object. A person’s need becomes a thing or action, a chore to be done. The more unbalanced the caregiver’s workload, the more likely she will default to I–It relationships.  Love returns us to I–You, wherein the human being is rightly acknowledged. We demonstrate through loving words and actions that residents are worthy of our time, full attention, and dedication. The I–You relationship is one of the highest regard for another.

Unknowingly, without intention, or as a means to complete tasks quickly, we may be conducting ourselves in a manner that does not serve our loved ones well. We believe ourselves to be efficient, completely unaware that the methods we use add to the chaos, confusion or disability in the world around us. The more we rush, the more likely everyone we see will become an It – the cashier at the grocery store, the driver in the next lane, that special someone you love and adore.  Slow down, take a deep breath, and remember the glory of I-Thou and I-You interaction. 

Blog by Kassandra A. King, the author of “Getting REAL About Alzheimer’s:  Rementia through Engagement, Assistance, and Love.”  Ms. King is the owner of Alzheimer’s Connection, provider of professional rementia care training for the caregivers of SYNERGY HomeCare in La Mesa, CA, and Broomfield, CO.

SYNERGY HomeCare provides a variety of in-home care services such as senior home assistance, homecare support, and in-home companionship services to clients of all ages for families living in East Central County including La Mesa, Casa de Oro, Del Cerro, Mt. Helix, Santee, Lemon Grove, San Carlos, Allied Gardens, Tierrasanta, and other nearby communities.  Call SYNERGY HomeCare today to learn more and discuss your options at 619-462-2273.

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