Have you found yourself in the role of caregiver to someone with arthritis? Web of Care offers this insightful list of guidelines:
Check libraries, bookstores, and the Internet for general advice on caregiving and arthritis. Hospitals, community colleges and service organizations may offer courses and other resources. Educate yourself about your care recipient’s condition, and continue to stay informed. Information is empowering. The effects of arthritis can be difficult to cope with. The more you understand, the easier it will be to deal with day-to-day problems.
A medical professional can certainly provide you with information. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or other professional health care providers if you have questions; don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand what they are telling you. Use a tape recorder (with permission) or write down what they tell you during the sessions so you can review the information later.
One item you might want to put on your weekly checklist is to read at least one new resource (journal, book, article, website) on arthritis and/or care providing.
Be Open to New Technologies
There’s a difference between caring and providing care. Be open to new technologies and ideas that promote your care recipient’s independence.
Set Realistic Goals
Set realistic goals for yourself. You cannot do everything, nor should you ask it of yourself. Recognize what you can and can’t do and set priorities. Ask others – friends, family and neighbors – for help when you need it. They can give you a break by helping with chores like housecleaning, running errands or meal preparation. They may even be able to offer short periods of respite care. Try also to set realistic goals in terms of your expectations on your care recipient. Remember that people with arthritis have good days and bad days; don’t expect consistent behavior from them. Remember to be patient and take things day by day.
Use Community Resources
Don’t forget that there may be resources available to you in your community. Investigate any services that may be helpful. Consider accepting opportunities for respite care. Perhaps you can find a homemaker or an aide to help you out.
Trust your Instincts
They will typically lead you in the right direction.
Stand up for your Caregiver Rights
Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and a citizen.
Remember to be good to, and look after yourself. Thinking positive thoughts about yourself can be hard when you’re caregiving. Family members may not think you’re doing a good job and even your care recipient may be angry or ungrateful to you. Don’t let them get you down; remember to love, honor and value yourself.
Maintain your Health
Maintain your health. You can’t expect to care for someone else if you can’t even look after yourself. Make sure you’re eating 3 balanced meals a day. When you don’t eat properly your energy levels drop and it’s easier to feel depressed and stressed out.
Don’t let yourself get run down. Moderate exercise – even just taking a walk – helps your body to relax from stress and tension. You might want to put exercising, or at least going out, once a week down on your checklist of things to do. Breathing exercises – which can be performed anywhere if you can’t get out – can also help you to relax your body.
Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Not getting enough sleep will make you feel even more run down and unable to cope with the stress going on in your life.
Allow Time for Yourself
Allow yourself some leisure time. Caring for another can take you away from yourself. It’s okay to take time away from your role as caregiver. Read a book, take a nap, visit with a friend or do whatever gives you enjoyment and relieves the pressure of caregiving.
Keep Your Life in Balance
Have a life outside your caregiving duties. Keeping your life in balance with your own friends, interests and activities won’t necessarily be easy but it is important, for both you and your care recipient. Meeting your own needs will help you bring a sense of renewed strength and commitment to your caregiving role. Take control of your life, don’t allow your care recipient’s condition to control you. Add one activity that you like to do to your weekly checklist (and make sure you do it!).
Take a Break
If you think you need a break, you probably do. Take it, and realize you deserve it.
Communicate. Don’t wait for others to ask if you need help. Ask them, first. Turn to family members and friends, for emotional support, companionship or occasional caregiving.
When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things they can do. You don’t have to do it all. Being “supercaregiver” brings on the exhaustion, depression, and failing health that signal burnout. Let others take over routine tasks to ease the workload. Encourage people to visit and bring news about old friends. Get discussions flowing about world events in your local community.
Deflect Criticism of Your Efforts
Deflect criticism of your efforts. If a relative, or friend, or other person criticizes your caregiving abilities, listen as politely as possible to their objections, but recognize they are not the ones providing the care, or coping with the stresses. If you and the care recipient are comfortable with your efforts, continue to provide that level of care. If possible, explain the circumstances, and ask other family members to become involved with the care process.
Understand You May Experience Guilt
Realize that the feelings you are having are normal, and common among caregivers. You have a hard and demanding job, it’s natural to experience feelings like guilt. Perhaps the best way to manage guilt is to accept it. Be kind to yourself and take credit for doing a terrific job. When guilt points its finger, ask if doing more is really necessary or possible. Accept your limits.
Watch out for Signs of Depression
The signs of depression are:
Lack of interest in regular activities
Thoughts of suicide
Impaired motor skills (e.g., slow, clumsy or agitated movement)
Inability to sleep properly
Lack of energy/fatigue
Difficulty thinking clearly/concentrating
Appetite and weight changes
Speak to a counselor or a medical professional if you think you need help and don’t delay getting help. Caregivers are often depressed; don’t suffer if you don’t have to.
Know that You are not Alone
Realize that you are not the only one out there going through this. Many people have been through this already, and are willing to share their experiences with you.
Avoid Self-Destructive Behavior
Avoid self-destructive behavior. Try not to rely on coffee, cigarettes, alcohol or overeating as a means of dealing with stress or anxiety. While they can provide a ‘quick fix’, these chemicals, especially if you are not eating or sleeping properly, can cause health problems, anxiety and nervousness.
There are many natural herbs and supplements that you can take to promote a calmer, healthier lifestyle. Recommended products include (Source: Prescription for Nutritional Healing 2nd Ed.):
Ginkgo Biloba (take as directed):
A herb that promotes brain function and good circulation
Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (3,000 – 10,000 mg daily):
Helps the adrenal gland restore “anti-stress” hormone
Calcium (2,000 mg daily):
Depleted when you are under stress
Magnesium (1,000 mg daily):
High-stress levels create magnesium deficiency resulting in anxiety and fear
Melatonin (start with 1.5 mg daily 2 hours before bedtime, gradually increase to 5 mg if first dosage isn’t effective):
Natural hormone that promotes sound sleep
Share your Problems
Share and discuss your problems. You can learn how others deal with difficulties similar to yours, and you can help someone who might be going through the same thing. The more we help each other, the more we help ourselves.
Join a Support Group
In addition to acting as a clearinghouse for information about your care recipient’s condition, support groups offer friendship and a forum where you can express your feelings and frustrations. It’s perfectly natural to need support. Experiences of other caregivers reveal there are other people out there with the same sort of problems and challenges. Learning that problems are not exclusive to you reduces the challenge to a manageable size.
Be careful in choosing a support group. Each group has a different focus. Some offer support for managing day-to-day care tasks, others focus on the understanding of emotional needs. If a group doesn’t meet your needs, find another or start your own group. Join the Web of Care chat room and share experiences with other caregivers. A mutual exchange of experiences helps brings recognition of your skills as a caregiver.
Laughter really is the best medicine. Laugher releases tension, eases pain, improves your breathing, elevates your mood, and in general improves your outlook on life. Share a joke or a funny story with your care recipient, or a friend, or your support group. Watch movies or television programs that make you laugh. Try to find humor in your everyday life.
Copyright 1999 Web Of Care-reprinted here with permission