Caring for the Caregiver

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

by LeAnn Thieman

Often we are so busy taking care of the patient, we scarcely have time to notice, let alone nurture, the friend or family caregiver at the bedside. Yet it only takes a few minutes and doing so benefits everyone involved. These 10 tips will help you care for the caregiver and the patient:

  1. Take their hand in yours, look them in the eye and verbally acknowledge their pain. Too often our comments to them are understandably made in haste while we making rounds or doing treatments. This small gesture of touch shows them you sincerely care about them too.
  2. Tell them you realize that they have entrusted you with their most valuable asset – their loved one, and assure them you will provide your absolute best possible care.
  3. Cultivate reciprocal feelings of trust – you for them, and they for you. Show them you’re on their side.
  4. Honor their knowledge of the patient and his or her condition. Let them know you realize they know them best. They will be much more receptive of your input when you have honored theirs. Make them feel part of the caregiving team.
  5. Alleviate their guilt. The family member frequently harbors unspoken feelings of blame about their loved one ending up in your facility. Just a few words on your part can ease their burden of remorse.
  6. Tell them the truth, gently and honestly. Feeling fooled or ill-informed is one of their greatest worries.
  7. Remind them to care for themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. Encourage them to eat regularly, visit the chapel or walk in the garden. Have your facility subscribe to caregiving magazines for them to read, which offer knowledge and tools for coping. Provide uplifting, inspirational books to give them hope and healing. Give them permission to take time for themselves. Remind them that they cannot care for their loved one if they are weak and sick – often they’ll care for themselves not for their own well-being, but for that of their loved one.
  8. Be patient with their impatience. They are often guilt-ridden, exhausted, and worried beyond their ability to cope.
  9. Connect them with your facility or community’s social services departments. Most have resources for caregivers, offering support and much-needed assistance.
  10. Smile. Their facial expression will mirror yours. When you smile, they will – maybe for the first time that day.

These 10 tips will benefit you, the patient and the caregiver. You will save time, as difficult family members can impede patient care. Your heart (and feet!) will ache less. The patient will notice your compassionate understanding and treatment of their caregiver, which contributes to his or her healing and peace. And the caregiver will feel cared for–a much needed and long overdue reward.

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