What You Can Do To Be a Supportive Caregiver
We've learned six ways for you to be an effective caregiver:
- Work and communicate effectively with the patient.
- Support the patient’s spiritual concerns.
- Help to resolve the patient’s unfinished business.
- Work with closely with health professionals.
- Work with family and friends.
- Take care of your own needs and feelings.
This is your most important and challenging job. The person you are caring for must deal with the physical effects of the disease and medicine as well as the psychological and social challenges of living with a terminal illness. Your job is to involve as much as possible the person you are caring for in making decisions and carrying out the plan. You should support the person’s efforts to deal with the reality of the prognosis emotionally, and this includes efforts to:
Help the person to accept the situation.
Support the patient’s efforts to live as normal a life as possible, but if he or she is pretending that nothing is wrong, you need to be clear in your own mind about what is really happening.
Create a climate that encourages and supports sharing feelings.
Talk about important or sensitive topics in a time and place that is calm and conducive to open communication - not in the midst of a crisis or family argument.
- Communicate your availability.
- Understand that men and women often communicate in different ways, and make allowances for those differences.
- Be realistic and flexible about what you hope to agree on or communicate.
- Sharing does not always mean talking, either. He or she may express feelings in nonverbal ways as well, such as through gestures or expressions, touching, or just asking that you be present.
Help the patient to deal with anxiety and depression.
People with terminal illness may become anxious, worried about those they will leave behind, and depressed about their situation. Seek advice on how to control depressed thoughts and feelings, especially when they are just beginning.
Explain your needs openly.
Sometimes, you may need to ask the patient to do something that will make your own life easier or your caregiving responsibilities more manageable.
If a caregiving change is warranted, suggest a trial run or time limit. If you want the person you are caring for to try something, such as a new bed or a certain medication schedule, and he or she is resisting, ask the person to try it for a limited time, such as a week, and then evaluate the situation.
Choose your battles carefully.
Ask yourself what is really important. Are you being stubborn on an issue because you need to win an argument or be in control? You can save both time and energy by skipping the minor conflicts and using your influence on issues that really count.
Let the patient make as many of his or her decisions as possible.
Taking away someone’s ability to make decisions can undermine his or her feelings of control, which in turn interferes with the person’s ability to deal with other aspects of this stressful illness.
Support the patient’s spiritual concerns.
As a caregiver, you can support the patient in thinking about his or her own answers to spiritual questions. Of course, professionals such as clergy or counselors who have experience helping people with spiritual problems near the end of life can be very comforting to the person you are caring for, provided that he or she wants their help. Be sure to ask for their help, if you feel out of your comfort zone.
Share your views and feelings when you are asked or think that he or she would like to ask.
Hearing another person’s thoughts and feelings can be helpful to someone who is troubled. But never force your thinking onto them.
Help to resolve the patient’s unfinished business.
People near the end of their life commonly to want to take certain actions or have certain experiences before they die. Arranging for these experiences can be substantial undertakings, involving contacting other people and organizing long-distance travel. Do not expect that the experiences you arrange will always be successful.