Do You Know How Much Personal Space Your Loved One Prefers?

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Quick: How much do you touch your loved one? How often do you hover? There are no right answers to those questions because everyone is different. But it's worth realizing that there's a "sweet spot" in personal space for each caregiving duo.

Finding it and respecting it can make a huge difference in quality of life for both of you.

Realize that everyone's needs are different.

The most common scenario is that older adults receive too much personal space from caregivers. There's a tendency to be a bit standoffish with older adults. As a result, many elders are "touch deprived." After a lifetime of the physical contact of spouses and children, they may have few opportunities for basic human touch. Many older adults actually crave touch, and they benefit from more physical contact, not less.

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But not everyone feels that way, of course. People with dementia are sometimes made more sensitive to touch -- sudden motions scare them.

Don't assume -- experiment, and ask.

Find ways to gauge what your loved one prefers. Learn to read body language: Watch for flinching as you approach, for example, or nervous movements that indicate discomfort.

It never hurts to ask. Be specific: "Do you like when we hold hands in the car?" "Do you mind if I rub your shoulders?" "Would you like a hug?"

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Factor in your own touchy-feely preferences.

Your loved one's needs aren't the only consideration here. It helps to have a sense of your natural caregiving style. If you're a hugger and a flutterer but that makes your loved one uncomfortable, for example, you may need to hold back a bit. If you tend to be reserved but your loved one would benefit from more demonstrative touch, try to force yourself out of your comfort zone to provide it.