When your loved ones are feeling the pain, they are simply not themselves. Follow these tips to help take the best care of them, without straining your relationship.
1) Keep communication open.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do from the start is to let them know you are there to help. Ask them if they want to talk about anything. It may take time before they are willing to share their fears and really open up. Be patient, listen closely, and ask questions. Let them know you are always there to talk and to help solve problems. They might not be able to handle problems or emotions the same way as they used to, so it is very important to initiate their trust and to develop clear communication lines.
2) Become active in their appointments.
Much of the time, chronic pain sufferers have a difficult time getting themselves to appointments or even moving around on their own. It is important that they have someone available to bring them to appointments, to fill prescriptions, and to help remember important things pertinent to their care. Sometimes, helping to communicate with doctors is helpful, as there are commonly many ailments, prescriptions, treatments, etc. that can be hard to keep track of. It is also important to understand their condition, know what their medications are for, and have an idea of what to expect in the future.
3) Become a medicine expert.
With all of the pills and potions that doctors might prescribe to keep your loved one even somewhat comfortable, it can get confusing. Knowing what’s in each bottle is essential to providing the best care for them. Read the inserts that come with the medicine, or research the names on the internet. Get familiar with what they are being used for, how often to take them, what the side effects may be, and what food or drug interactions might be potentially harmful. You should certainly know why they had a reaction when they ate a grapefruit after their morning blood pressure meds. It is probably a good idea to use a pill box to sort all of their medications for the week, and maybe use a check sheet to note when they took their pills.
4) Attend a class.
A good idea for any caregiver, or any helper for that matter, would be to take a class or two to get training on giving care. Try looking into CPR, first aid, or specialized care giving classes that teach how to dispense medicine, bathe or dress someone, or how to use specialized medical equipment common in home care settings. Many times, these classes can be found at local community colleges, care giving agencies, or a local health and human services department. The classes are usually short, from one day to a few weeks long and might require a small fee to attend. Sometimes, with enough research and luck, you can find classes for free. Often, if you register as a caregiver in your state, they may pay you to care for your loved one and provide resources to help you find local classes.
5) Encourage a pain journal.
Pain journals can be effective at helping your patient to focus and to analyze their pain, helping their doctor to tailor the best treatment options for them, or helping the caregiver understand what the patient needs. It is useful to set aside a few minutes at the end of each day to document what they did and how they felt and to rate their pain levels throughout the day. It might not be a bad idea for you as the caregiver to create your own journal from what you observe to document when you gave them meals and medications, where they went, how they appear to feel, and how they say they feel. Document naps, bouts of depression, refusal to eat or take pills, and anything else that needs to be mentioned. For tips on writing a pain journal, check out our article here.
6) Promote healthy habits.
Many times, patients do not want to change their diet, exercise, or do the things suggested by their doctor. Encourage them to. If you prepare meals for them, cook only what is suggested by the doctor but adapt them in a way that will appease their tastes. Diet food doesn’t have to be flavor free. If they are unwilling to exercise, find out why. Maybe the pain increases with certain exercises. Try to adapt their exercise regimen to their pain specifics. If that isn’t your expertise, seek the help of a physical therapist or personal trainer to come up with an exercise program that they can perform at home on their own or with your help. Don’t let them be stubborn. Studies show that exercise promotes healing and can help reduce pain levels.
7) Trust your instincts.
Natural instincts in care and emergency intervention may help you get through the day. A doctor’s advice should always be followed, but sometimes, you will find yourself in situations that aren’t anticipated. Trust your instincts, and trust yourself to make the right decisions. If you are in doubt and don’t know what to do, reach out to family members, friends, fellow caregivers, a doctor, or even trusted sources on the internet. In severe emergency situations that you are not prepared for, call 911.
8) Remember where they are coming from.
Sometimes, the days will be bad. If pain levels are high and your normal treatment isn’t effective, ask what you can do. There may be times in which they just don’t want any help at all. In such sticky situations, tread with caution, but don’t leave. Find out what is bothering them. If they persistently deny your help, leave the room and give them some privacy. Find something else you can do to fill your time until they come around. Many of these patients have been taking care of themselves for years, and it is hard for them to allow anyone else to do the things they can no longer do. Sometimes they get cranky, or even mean, but don’t let it get you down. Remember that they are suffering, and even if they say they don’t want your help, they probably need it. When they are ready to talk again, let them know that you are there to assist them with anything they need, even if it’s nothing at all. Let them know it’s okay if they just need to just sit and watch a movie with you, or if they need time alone. Ask them what it is that they don’t like about their care, their illness, and their activities, and see if there is a way to help them feel better. Just do your best to stay positive and to not let your anger or frustration make the situation worse.
9) Plan some time out.
With all of the chaos that comes with daily care, it can be easy to forget to have fun. While it’s likely their physical limitations may prevent many activities, there are other things that they could be enjoying. Plan a fishing trip or a picnic in the park. Maybe just go for a nice long drive. Bring all of their daily medications with you and make sure they still take them on schedule. It’s amazing how simply getting out of the house can help with their emotional health and could ultimately serve as a treatment, as well. It is also good for your relationship with them and can help to create a strong bond that is crucial for long-haul care.
10) Take care of yourself.
Taking care of other people can be rough. With the time put into their care and the emotional toll it takes on you worrying about their well being, it is common for the caregiver to neglect themselves. Always schedule some time off for yourself. If your patient needs constant care, find someone to step in and help so you can have a break. Make sure you are eating right, spending time with family and friends, and taking opportunities to get out and have some fun. Treat yourself to shopping and primping, or go play golf. It is important that both of you are physically and emotionally strong. Otherwise, you are of little use to your patient. Do yourself a favor and RELAX!
Photo credit: Rosie O’Beirne at Flickr