Caregivers struggle with their responsibilities every day. As one problem is solved, a new challenge often arises. There isn’t a tell-all book that covers how to approach all the issues you may face, but the following concepts can help get you in the right mindset and make your life a little easier.
Remember the Person Inside
The person you are caring for is likely different than they were before. This could be mentally, physically or a combination of the two. They may recognize this change in themselves which, as you can imagine must be both frustrating and scary. Your loved one may react by taking out this frustration on you. Maybe your husband is saying hateful things or your mom is refusing to speak to you today. No matter the situation, it’s your job as a caregiver to keep in mind who your loved one truly is as a person.
Rethink Personal Boundaries
When it comes to personal boundaries regarding what can be talked about and what physical assistance can be provided, flexibility and complete honesty are key. Topics that may seem taboo, such as toileting and bodily functions, are now a daily concern. The person you are caring for may have trouble bathing or getting on and off the toilet. However, they are probably embarrassed to talk about it or ask for help. If so, be the one to start the conversation. Be candid, empathetic and honest. Genuine concern and a matter-of-fact approach can help them feel more comfortable about communicating their feelings to you. Once the topic is addressed or they accept assistance, it will likely become less of an issue.
Patience really is a virtue when it comes to caregiving. There will be times when you are at your wits’ end, but don't take it out on the person you are caring for. Remove yourself from the situation for a moment, take a deep breath and do not try to address the issue again until you calm down. This is a very important exercise for maintaining your own mental health in stressful situations. Pent-up frustration can take a big toll on caregivers over the long term.
When you are providing the most intimate care to an elderly person, they must trust you completely and you must trust yourself. Have faith in your ability to care for them. No one is perfect. You're in unknown territory, and there are no rule books to prepare you for this role. It can be frightening, but you must have the courage to do the best you can. And most importantly, seek help and information when you need it!
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
Learn all that you can about your loved one’s health conditions and how you can provide the best possible care for them. Seek out information from their physicians, nurses, the internet and friends who have had similar experiences. Knowledge is power; it can guide you and instill confidence. Furthermore, when you demonstrate that you are competent to make decisions about their care, the person you are caring for will likely relax and become more accepting of your help.
Do It From the Heart
Approach caregiving as something you do from your heart. Your job is important and you have a positive impact on the life of another. This is a selfless act. Make it something you want to do, not something you feel you have to do.
Even though the person you are caring for may be impaired, they still have an opinion. An elder can still teach you important lessons about life and love. Learn to listen and avoid coming off as condescending. Don't disregard their opinion without giving it some thought. Take time to consider their point of view.
Look for Non-Verbal Clues
Body language is a big part of human communication and interaction. Even if your loved one is unable to verbally tell you that something is wrong, their body language can still be used to pick up on changes in their mood and comfort level. If you adopt the attitude of, "Well, if you're not going to tell me what's wrong, then I'm not going to worry about it," you might be missing a critical health problem or personal care need. Be sensitive to subtle non-verbal cues. Their responses, no matter how simple, open the door for you to more accurately understand what they need.
Be Responsive, but Have Limits
Being an attentive caregiver doesn’t mean you have to jump up every time you are called. Learning to balance a loved one’s needs with your other responsibilities takes time and patience. If an issue is not urgent and you can’t get to it right away, acknowledge their request and tell them you’ll see to it as soon as you can. If they think you are disregarding them, they will likely become angry, and then you have a new problem on your hands. No one wants to feel ignored or like a pest, so balancing boundaries and responsiveness is crucial.
Caregiving often manifests as an endless list of tasks, but don't get caught in the trap of trying to get it all done at once and simply working "around" the person you are caring for. Take the time to step away from your to-do list and really get a feel for how they’re doing. Notice what's in their eyes, their tone of voice, and what they are saying. Spend a few minutes with them and try to enjoy their company. If they sense that you're doing the job because you’re interested in their wellbeing, they'll be more cooperative and more willing to help you help them.
Communicate with Touch
As we get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of caregiving, we sometimes forget to show affection. Everyone needs some human touch. Giving a hug, holding their hand, or patting them on the arm can make all a difference. Attention and affection make the person you are caring for feel reassured and important.
It’s important to remember that the person you’re caring for still has a strong desire to remain independent and in control of their own life for as long as possible. Sometimes, their words or actions stem from a fear of losing independence and not being able to care for themselves anymore. When they need assistance getting up from a seated position, have trouble bathing, or have to give up the keys to the car, it's a dose of reality that the life they once knew is gone forever. Have patience, and practice non-judgment. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Work together, not against each other. Being a caregiver requires teamwork between you and the person you are caring for. Of course, it takes two, but the first step is to develop that cooperative attitude yourself. Then, you can work on getting them to adopt the same frame of mind. Everything is a little easier when you're working with someone, rather than against them. Other family members and friends, doctors and nurses are part of the team as well. When everyone is on the same page, this makes it easier to coordinate and become a more efficient care team.