The importance of positive reinforcement for caregivers

Our family's tradition took on new significance after my wife's diagnosis

Carlos Briceño avatar

by Carlos Briceño |

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In a world full of negativity, positive reinforcement is a welcome practice. I’m lucky to be part of a family where it is encouraged and implemented. The process has shaped me into a better husband and caregiver to my wife, Jill, who is gene-positive for Huntington’s disease.

Jill received great advice on this subject from her mother, Edwina, who said that giving children encouragement and affirmation was important for their development. Jill took the advice. Whether she was cheering on our daughter, Alexus, as she took her first steps or celebrating Alexus’ achievements in school, we witnessed firsthand the profound effect that positive reinforcement had on her confidence and self-esteem. These simple acts of encouragement would continue, even after Alexus became an adult.

As our daughter grew, so too did our understanding of the importance of positive reinforcement within our family. We all gave encouragement and validation to one another without thinking about it. This environment of kindness and affirmation became who we were, not just what we did.

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Continuing the tradition

This commitment to positivity took on new significance with Jill’s Huntington’s disease diagnosis. Suddenly, our family was faced with a daunting challenge — one that threatened to shake us to our core. Although we struggled with uncertainty, we continued with our tradition of positive reinforcement.

Jill’s father had Huntington’s, so she understands the challenges of being a caregiver to someone with the disease. Every time I question if I can be what and who she needs, she becomes my biggest cheerleader. She constantly verbalizes her appreciation for all of the simple things I do for her. Every time she tells me I am doing well, I get more and more confident in my caregiving skills.

I have tried to do the same for her. When she felt weak, I reminded her that she is the toughest person I know. When she believed she was lashing out, I reminded her that she is the kindest person I’ve ever met. And when she was emotionally down, I gave her a jar full of reasons why I love her. That way, Jill could pick one to read when she needed a boost.

For me, this journey of caregiving has been both humbling and transformative. I know I’ll never be the best caregiver. I know I’ll never be perfect. I also know that Jill has made me want to work every day to be worthy of the positive reinforcement she bestows on me.

The best way to end this column is to positively reinforce all the caregivers who are reading. The saying “practice makes perfect” makes sense when it comes to this behavior. As difficult as it may be to stay positive when someone you love is suffering, being encouraging, patient, loving, and kind is a way to positively reinforce the one you love.

Note: Huntington’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Huntington’s Disease News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Huntington’s disease.


Karl Miran avatar

Karl Miran

Well said. Thanks for this.

Curt avatar


Diagnosed in 2007, in the last 12 years of taking constant care of my girlfriend and hearing her tell me "You're good to me" and "I don't know what I'd do without you." today she is just barely able to speak and, on her worst days, impossible to understand, When I'm feeling inadequate to meeting her needs, I remind myself of her words and it renews my strength and compassion in spite of the many frustrations. Those memories and her wonderful, caring team of Drs and support staff are immeasurable in supporting me. I hope all of you have such a network of support.
Thank you for the reminder that I'm not alone and know that I support you and all my fellow caregivers in spirit at least.


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