On Your Health

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5 Tips to Be an Effective Caregiver

Today we have a guest blog post from John Chasteen, who is a chaplain with INTEGRIS Hospice House in Oklahoma City. Chasteen has been involved in the ministry for more than 30 years and is a published author with noted articles in numerous publications.

They’ve cared for you, encouraged you and been there every step of the way through your life, but now the roles are reversed. When it comes time for a parent or loved one to need special care, it can be difficult for all the parties involved. A family caregiver is a demanding role that may include coordinating treatment with various providers, performing at-home medical tasks, and/or providing mental and emotional support for your loved one during an intense life transition.

Quite simply, being a caregiver is hard work. It’s stressful, tiring and can be very challenging. It’s a 24/7 job that demands physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Even the best caregiver can be blindsided, experience discouragement and feel hopeless.

So the question is, how do you survive it? What can you do to keep yourself encouraged and operating at peak levels to meet the needs of your loved one?  Here are a few tips to help you give the best possible care to your loved ones when they need it most.

1. You must have an outlet.

By an outlet, I mean finding time to get away and take a break for some kind of reprieve. It could be visiting a place you enjoy, like the mall, a park or a movie. It could be as close as your backyard or patio — any place that puts you at ease and helps you relax and divert your attention away from the challenges you face, even if the break is short.

It should be something that reenergizes you emotionally or spiritually. If you don’t know what that might be, give yourself permission to try a few different things to see what works for you. Don’t feel guilty about it, and try not to condemn yourself for needing a brief break from your stressful situation. “Me time” is a periodic necessity.

2. Learn to develop perspective.

Finding perspective is a wonderful gift. It is the ability to see things from a different point of view, to march to a different drum when everyone else is freaking out.  In essence, perspective is the ability to re-frame your thoughts to avoid feeling trapped and panicked, or “backed into a corner,” by current situations and problems. Sound easy? Think again.

I have found that some people tend to have a natural disposition for this, while others need to develop it. Whatever the case, it is an important aspect of a healthy caregiver.

With that said, try to back up, take a deep breath, and remind yourself there are other, alternative ways to see the situation. Find a friend to help you hash things out if needed and learn to develop perspective.

3. Intentionally educate yourself.

To educate is to prepare yourself. With the information highway literally at your fingertips, educating yourself really is possible. You don’t use the internet? Ask others who do to help you find information that equips you to understand what you are dealing with.

Here is a starting point for the process: First of all, it is helpful to learn more about your loved one’s disease. What are the expectations and the prognosis from the medical community?  What do you know about your loved one’s symptoms?  Are you prepared for what’s coming?

Take the time to read a book, search the internet and talk to the experts. If you know what’s coming it will likely lower your stress level, and educating yourself will also help keep your expectations realistic.

4. Become big on little things.

This might seem like an odd statement, but it speaks to the power of focus. What we would consider “little things” often become huge to our loved ones. For instance, something as little as a wrinkled sheet can cause pain. And what about the smells in the room – are they pleasant? Does your loved one have a nice view outside from the bed?

Take a look at all the little things. Are they bringing joy or discomfort? Unfortunately, our loved ones often cannot tell us the little things that cause them discomfort. They have lost the ability to communicate or are incapable of articulating them to us.

It's important to be an advocate and notice the little things on behalf of your loved one! I remember a time in my own life when I spent six weeks on my back due to a serious injury. One of the bright spots of that season was the bird box on the fence outside my window. I watched a pair of wrens build a nest and hatch little ones from start to finish.

5. Endeavor to stay positive.

This tip is closely related to developing perspective, in that I encourage you to re-frame any potentially negative thoughts, because it's very important to stay positive with your loved one. Illness is always personal to the patient — affecting psyche, spirit and mind.

Being positive does not mean you need to hide reality from your loved one. It means you simply provide healthy support for them. So, what does this mean exactly, and what does this look like? A statement such as, “I’m with you all the way, whatever you need, and I’m here to help,” can be very comforting and reassuring for a loved one who is struggling with the personal pain of disease.

Support for family caregivers

INTEGRIS Hospice House offers in-patient hospice care and short-term respite care to provide relief for caregivers. For more information on INTEGRIS Hospice House of Oklahoma City, call 405-848-8884.