Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guest Blog for Caregivers by Rob Harris



The realization that you are now a caregiver could have manifested itself over an extended period of time, as your loved one's health began to slowly decline, or instantaneously, with the pronouncement that all is not well. Thus, you may have had time to prepare yourself for your role, or you may have been shocked into realizing your world has just been rocked, and you have not had the time to determine what that means to you, your loved one, your immediate family, your close friends, and your distant relatives.

If you are unfamiliar with what being a caregiver entails, you might experience fear, confusion, frustration, and a myriad of other feelings that need immediate resolution.  

Next, the role of caregiver stares you squarely in the face. Personally, I had no idea what that meant and, unfortunately, I learned the hard way – I was self-taught.

With knowledge comes understanding. With understanding comes a sense or order and a reduced feeling of chaos. For me, obtaining the information I needed to know had a bit of a calming effect.

My suggested Caregiver Learning Curve Phases are as follows:

·         Phase 1: Self-Assessment: What do I know? What do I need to know about – and quickly?
·         Phase 2: Knowledge is Power: Time to do some homework/research.
·         Phase 3: Create a Plan: Organize yourself and your activities. Begin to record pertinent data.
·         Phase 4: Work Your Plan: Create, modify, and refine your plan.
·         Phase 5: Expand Your Knowledge Base: Continue to study everything possible about the medical malady your patient is facing.
·         Phase 6: Flexibility is a Must: As the patient’s medical conditions change, the caregiver must adjust their caregiving methods to mirror the changes.
·         Phase 7: Self-Analysis: What have I gained from my experience? How will this affect me immediately, in the short term, and for the rest of my life?

Throughout each of these phases, there are a few constants, things to do and consider along the way:

·         Ask Questions: Ask your loved one about their feelings, beliefs, desires and, though unpleasant, what they would like to occur if the outcome is not positive. Consider medical, personal, financial and all other categories that might come into play at a later date. Determine who to ask and what questions you have.
·         Be Prepared: Be proactive. Determine the questions and answers before you need to act. Research your various options. Create an action plan in the event you need to take action. Do you need to consult with an attorney, a home health-care provider, a member of the clergy, a funeral home or cemetery? These are but a few of the categories that need to be addressed in advance of a possible occurrence. Though the hope is you never will need to act upon the information obtained, it is important to have them handy, just in case.
·         Keep Records: Write down everything that happens, when it happens. Chart all medical information and doctor-nurse-patient activities. Keep a journal of your thoughts and emotions throughout. It may help you to brainstorm with yourself and record your feelings for later use. Your memory may be compromised due to stress and exhaustion. Writing everything down is essential for you and your care recipient. It was one of the more meaningful activities I undertook and it helped me immensely throughout our ordeal.
·         Experimentation May Improve the Process. Never get too comfortable with your routine. If there are things that bother you, consider viable alternatives. Are you allowing for enough “me time?” Can you improve upon your methods? Trying different activities and strategies might make your caregiving job more bearable and manageable – and might diffuse possible tension between the loved one and caregiver.
·         Obtain Resources: Find others who will volunteer to assist in the care of the person you’re helping, or who might be willing to take over a few of your less desirable duties. Seek friends, relatives, professional agencies, volunteer groups, etc. Create a list of support you need and who can provide it.
·         Self-Assessment: Continually evaluate your own feelings and emotional standing. Are you becoming depressed? Are you taking care of yourself along with the patient? Is life still enjoyable? Are you resentful? If you are unable to respond positively, perhaps it’s time to consult with a family physician, a member of the clergy or a health-care professional.
·         Do Not Go It Alone: It’s okay to have fun, to laugh and to enjoy yourself. If you are unable to do so, it may be time to see professional assistance.

Being a caregiver is not easy. The learning curve is steep and always changing. In order to succeed at offering your loved one the best care possible, one needs to embrace the stages of learning, and never stop adjusting, for each day, each hour and each minute may be different from the last.

Once you master your role and responsibilities, it could be a treasured and invaluable time for you and your loved one. The relationship will surely change. In many cases, as it was for my wife and me, it changed for the better.

Rob Harris 

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"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting..... 'WHAT A RIDE!'"