By Pam Thorson
I’ve been a full-time caregiver of a high-level quadriplegic son for sixteen years. I love my job, but I’m always looking for new ways to ease the workload. Here are some things we’ve learned over the years that help relieve the stress of caregiving for us.
1. Ask for help.
Caregiving is a marathon. No one can take it on day after day without respite or assistance. It’s hard to ask others for help. But those around you may wish they could help and just not know what to do. If you’re not comfortable with having them take over the actual caregiving duties, see if they would be willing assist you with other chores. Know what community, church, and government resources are available, as well. Getting help not only relieves the physical burden, it allows both caregiver and patient a chance to interact with others, a vital necessity for both physical and emotional health.
2. Be assertive.
Research has shown that those who are passive are more likely to crumble under the burden of caregiving. They tend to stay isolated, worry more, ask fewer questions, and develop a negative attitude. A healthier approach is to take charge of the situation. Ask questions and pursue the answers that will help you make the best choices for both you and the person you are caring for. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you disagree with a treatment prescribed by the doctor.
3. Learn all you can.
Understanding what is happening to your family member is crucial to providing the best care with the least amount of emotional strain. Research the disease process or injury, available treatments, and the usual prognosis. It’s especially important to know such basic techniques as how to correctly turn a person in bed, infection control, and fall prevention.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Caregivers often put the needs of others ahead of their own. In order to take good care of others, you need to be good to yourself. This is easier said than done, obviously. As a nurse, I use my own version of “triage.” Emergency departments employ “triage” to decide which patients should be treated first. Do this with your life. Develop your own system to care for the “worst first” in your day. If a chore can wait until tomorrow and you’re exhausted, put it at the end of the line. This works for emotional issues, too. Don’t waste your tears on things that aren’t worth your energy.
5. Talk to someone.
Develop an emotional support system. Have at least one or two people who you can call when you need to cry, vent, or just talk. Just don’t wear them out with your troubles. Engaging with others gives our lives new perspective. It may even ignite a fresh appreciation for all we have gained on this incredible journey we call caregiving.