Caring for the Caregiver

When I first tell someone I’m a case manager at Magee, the response I usually hear is something like, “Wow, props to you for all you guys do to help out those patients.” But it’s not just the patients we help; it’s the caregivers, too. Often times I work closest with the caregivers because they’re the ones to carry over everything learned at Magee. At home, it becomes their job to make sure their loved one gets dressed, goes to the bathroom, gets the therapy they need, takes their medications, and gets to medical appointments. It’s a lot, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the things caregivers do. The responsibility of caregiving coupled with caring for themselves can easily overwhelm or stress the caregiver. As a friend or family member of a caregiver, you can help them combat their stress and “care” for them. Below I offer a few tips:

  1. Listen… I mean REALLY listen.

I do this every day with the patients and caregivers at Magee. The caregivers often say, “Thank you for just listening to me.” Oftentimes caregivers feel alone, like no one else understands what they’re going through. Being able to share their feelings and concerns with someone, without that person judging or trying to problem solve for them, is sometimes all they need. As you listen, acknowledge their feelings. It’s as simple as saying something like, “I’m so sorry. That must be so frustrating for you.” This helps them to feel less alone and comforts them to know their feelings are validated.

  1. Offer help, but make it tangible.

We’re all guilty of making the “Let me know if I can help you in any way” offer. While we may really mean it, how often does that person actually call you and ask for help? They may feel sad or embarrassed to ask you for help even though they really need it. If you really want to help, offer something concrete and specific, and give them a timeline of when you can do it. For example: “Can I help by making dinner/doing laundry/mowing the lawn for you this Thursday night?” If you’re comfortable with doing so, offer to assist with their loved one’s care so they can have an hour or two free to themselves.

  1. Stay connected.

Keep in touch with the caregiver. Their caregiving responsibilities may take up a lot of the free time they used to have, but that doesn’t mean they don’t crave relationships and spending time with others. Call or email every couple of weeks just to check in. Sometimes caregivers can spend the whole day talking with doctors or insurance companies, so having a normal conversation can be refreshing. Make sure to continue to invite them to all the parties and events you would have asked them to attend before they were a caregiver. Don’t assume they’ll be busy with caregiving! It could mean the world to them that you’re thinking about them.

National Case Management Week is October 9-15, 2016. To learn more about Case Management at Magee, click here

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