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The S-Sense of Caregiving

Are there rules for being a family caregiver? Yes, in the sense that what you do has to work both for your loved one and for you.

Organization is important because your time, energy, and resources are limited. You can’t afford to waste them.

Also important is your attitude. If you reach your breaking point, who will look out for your loved one? Stress can not only cause you health problems, it can negatively impact your loved one.

You may not know it, but many loved ones benefit from staying on a regular schedule during care. It’s not just that medications work better when we have a regular routine. When there is a lot of uncertainty about health problems, worry can often take over. Getting up every morning at the same time and going to bed with a regular ritual can actually be comforting, especially for people who have experienced medical emergencies. Knowing what to expect from a normal day can keep everyone on a more even keel.

Why should you keep score on what’s working and what’s not working for you as a caregiver? How can you know when to change things if you have no way to measure your successes and failures? Most caregivers find over time that what once worked in one type of situation doesn’t when a loved one’s health deteriorates. Very often, we get stuck in doing things for loved ones just one way, without flexibility. It’s important to get your loved one’s input, lest we become dull or domineering.

Believe it or not, your best tool as a caregiver is to learn as much about your loved one’s issues as possible. Observe changes in behavior and attitude. These can often signal new health issues or fears triggered by new symptoms that might be easily cured. Be aware of side effects, complications, and other bumps in the road. Understand the reality of what it’s like to be a person who needs care -- imagine walking in those shoes yourself. The more you can keep your loved one involved in the family, the better. No one likes to feel dependent, weak, helpless, or useless. There will always be something your loved one can do to contribute, even if it’s ideas, advice, and knowledge.

There is nothing worse than a grouch, especially for a loved one needing care. For people who can’t take care of themselves due to illness, disability, or old age, guilt often rears its ugly head. Many arguments and emotional meltdowns can be attributed to misunderstandings over perceptions. If you’re tense, frustrated, or miserable, you will convey that to your loved one and it will affect the care you provide. It’s not a matter of pretending that everything is okay. It’s a matter of resolving issues that stand in your way of being a caregiver, so that you can smile with genuine enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s more important to leave the dirty laundry and dishes behind in pursuit of some fun.

Some caregivers think it’s just a matter of handling things as they pop up, but a more effective way of managing caregiving is to think ahead of the curve. Be proactive, not reactive. When you train yourself to notice issues, you can find effective solutions sooner. The longer things go on unresolved, the greater the stress levels for you and your loved one. Anyone with an uncertain future is already worried enough, so when you handle problems as they manifest, you are removing obstacles from an already challenging road.
Do yourself a favor and forget about leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Stick to efficient and effective actions, reserve as much of your limited energy as possible, and understand the need to prioritize your “to do” list. Remember the most important advice of all: You are one person and there are only twenty four hours in a day. Included your loved one in the decision-making process as much as possible, do what matters most, and let yourself off the hook for the non-essential things you just don’t have time to handle.

Success isn’t measured by your loved one’s recovery -- none of us are miracle workers, especially when patients are overwhelmed by serious health issues. It’s also not about keeping a squeaky clean home or how well you dispense medications on time. If you want to know whether you’re doing a good job, look to the relationship you have with your loved one. When you are able to negotiate, cajole, and encourage your loved one to cooperate, your work as a caregiver is cooperative.
Copyright 2014-2018 Sara M. Barton