Nurturing relationships between a care recipient and their caregivers — no matter if they’re family or a professional home aide — has positive effects and can even help an individual age in place longer.

A study discovered that having a close relationship with a caregiver can help to slow down the progression and effects of a person living with dementia. Constantine Lyketsos, the director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, suggests that the health benefits are even more significant when the caregiver is a spouse.

While having a healthy relationship benefits the person receiving care, the caregiver also gains something significant: it’s a lot more fulfilling to work with someone with whom you share a mutual respect.

Here are three steps we can take to build more meaningful and engaging relationships with our loved ones.

1. Listen, Communicate, Engage

We all have a story to tell. Learning to truly listen to a loved one’s story will create deeper bonds and encourage increased communication. Understanding who our loved one is, along with their needs and preferences will help in delivering care in a personal way. Active listening will also allow us to better pick up on potential warning signs if their condition progresses.

When communicating with a loved one, turn your body toward the person speaking and make eye contact. Try not to interrupt the conversation and ask plenty of good questions to ensure that your loved one feels heard and respected.

2. Seek support

The caregiver and care recipient relationship is intimate, and it often involves complex, confusing or emotionally challenging scenarios. One of the first steps toward quality communication and a safe, healing relationship is transparency and the ability to ask for help.

To build trust, the care recipient needs to be able to ask for help when it is required and, to provide quality care, the caregiver needs to be able to ask the care recipient for help in understanding something new or clarifying a preference or concern.

We often pile on all the responsibilities of caring for a loved one on our shoulders and don’t realise that we need a break too. Caring may take a toll on our health and wellbeing, and this can affect our relationship with the individual we care for. Take a break when you need it. It is important to know that help and support are available when you need respite.

3. Have fun together

Last but not least, to build a strong relationship with a loved one you are caring for, you should make sure to have fun together! Take the time to discover what your loved one wants to spend their time doing. Whether it’s reading, drawing, playing games or going for a walk, you can partake in these activities together. Not only will activities like these strengthen your bond, but they’re also great ways to keep the body and mind active.

Through communication and nurturing of the relationship between you and your loved one, you will grow to understand f your loved one’s preferences with time. Try and engage in activities based on your loved one’s interest and not just based on what is convenient.

In addition to helping a loved one feel more involved, whole and capable, engaging in fun activities and go a long way toward decreasing feelings of distress and encouraging positive changes in behaviour.

When active listening, empathy, respect and patience are practised, both caregiver and care recipient can find themselves in a deep, caring and safe relationship.

In a home care setting, these types of relationships are integral in creating healing and comfort.