Tips for Caregivers (Part Three)

The role of a caregiver in any long-term disability situation is loaded with challenge– intellectual, physical, emotional and sometimes financial. Few are fully prepared to understand the demands and we all struggle to satisfy them. In this three part series each week, Susan will share practical tips for caregivers to consider as you serve your loved ones will be.

Manage your emotion!
Just as you find it distasteful to deal with aggressive individuals, care providers do, too.
To the extent you can, separate your emotion from interactions with providers by deciding the information you wish to receive before you engage. When delivering information to family and friends, stick to the facts and additional insight from providers, where appropriate. Do not try to interpret this information or spin it in any way whatsoever. Expect that you will be both hero and villain–sometimes in the same conversation! Keep your emotions in check to help others do the same.

Clinical information is your bedrock. Family members who do not have experience with providers or the understanding of the situation you have gained may dispute you at every turn. This is normal. Their aggression can certainly trigger an emotional response. You’ll lose it at times. Forgive yourself. Get some rest. Then remind yourself of the importance of your mission in caring for a cherished family member.

Meet them where they are.
When communicating with memory impaired individuals, listen carefully to what they are saying or asking for. Do not insist on factual accuracy, rather listen for emotional tenor. If you hear fear or anxiety, try to reassure by way of a quiet voice, gentle touch or light humor. If you hear sadness, join them in a moment of reflection to acknowledge their emotion. Same with anger. Do not try to persuade them to have a different point of view. Accept, acknowledge, and honor where they are. In many cases, the moment will pass and will soon be forgotten.

This same mindset is helpful in managing family members. Arguments often arise out of fear, misunderstanding, regret or any number of other emotions. You cannot know what they are thinking unless they tell you. Do not try to read their minds, do not embellish the information you have, and do not allow yourself to be dragged into family feuds that only make matters worse.

Protect your health.
Caregiving is loaded with stress, confusion, and oftentimes a deep sense of isolation and inadequacy. Dark days are tough enough without adding little sabotages of your own.
Pay special attention to habits you use to soothe yourself. Eating, drinking, and sleeping are essential in proper amounts. Too much of these and other habits may suggest that you need additional support. Don’t try to manage on your own. You are not deficient because you feel overwhelmed. You are human. Take time to pamper yourself in little ways that add to your sense of serenity and strength.

There are many challenges inherent in caregiving. Fortunately, there are many blessings as well. Whether you are with ailing loved ones, family members, or friends, cherish time together by setting aside your worries to give full attention to them. We know that deep listening and empathy are instruments of healing. Practice them. Be open to new relationships. Vow to let go of old pain in order to gain new perspective. You may be surprised at the wonderful people you discover–even in your mirror!

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