When caregivers need care: Supporting the people that you rely on

If you’re living with chronic pain, you might need someone to help you take care of your everyday needs – a caregiver. Caregiving can include anything from shopping, cooking, doing household chores, and driving to appointments, to being a companion and providing emotional support.

It’s tough knowing that your health problems might affect the people who are close to you. Whether your caregiver is a friend, an adult, or one of your children, you may sometimes worry about that person’s stress. Let’s look at some steps that you can take to look out for the caregivers in your life.

Coping with a loved one’s pain

It’s often tough for anyone to see a loved one suffer. Feelings of helplessness, worry, and sadness are common in caregivers, and it isn’t always easy (for you or for them) to talk about these feelings. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Encourage caregivers to open up. Talking with a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual advisor is a good way to keep feelings from building up. Just having someone to talk to can relieve a lot of stress.
  • Let caregivers take care of themselves, physically and emotionally. Tell your caregivers that it’s okay to set limits around the time that they spend with you each week.
  • If you think a caregiver may be overwhelmed or depressed, encourage him or her to seek counseling or make an appointment with a family healthcare provider. Social workers in hospitals or at your local Council on Aging can often point you to resources for caregivers right in your own community.

Confusion about your illness and treatment

Pain is a very personal experience, and your caregivers might not always understand your pain or what causes it. They may have worries, too – like concerns that you are using too much or too little pain medication, or even that you may become addicted to your medication. Thoughts like these can cause stress, but openly talking about pain can be tough. Here are some things that may help:

  • Encourage your caregiver to ask questions about your illness and your treatment. You can also invite your caregiver to come to healthcare appointments with you. If you sign a release form, your healthcare provider can answer your caregiver’s questions directly.
  • Get health information from your healthcare provider or from other resources like painACTION.com to help answer your caregiver’s questions and concerns. Patient education materials about your illness, treatments, and medications are often helpful to share with caregivers, too.

Caregivers sometimes ignore their own emotional and physical needs

Many caregivers have to juggle more than one job at the same time. Your caregiver may work a full-time job and care for children or other family members, too. Balancing everything can actually cause chronic (long-term) stress. This kind of stress can lead to physical and emotional issues, like poor sleep, anxiety, or even physical illness.

People with pain sometimes try to “protect” their caregivers by hiding their pain. On the other hand, caregivers sometimes deny that they’re stressed to “protect” the person with pain from worrying or feeling guilty – but these strategies rarely work. Here are some better ways to cope with caregiver stress:

  • Talk openly. You can ask your caregiver to read this article as a way to break the ice. Talking honestly with one another is the first step toward finding solutions to stress.
  • Learn about caregiver support groups in your community. Local hospitals or community centers are a good place to start a search. You can also find online support groups for caregivers.
  • Encourage your caregiver to lead a healthy lifestyle. Caregivers sometimes ignore their own health. Tell your caregivers that their health is important to you, and encourage them to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep.
  • Look into resources that can help lighten your caregiver’s load. For example, see if there are rides to appointments or home health services that are available in your community. You may also find people willing to lend a hand through a social network or a religious community.

You didn’t ask for your pain, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if you need help from others. Let the caregivers in your life know that you care about their health and happiness, too. It may help both of you cope better in the long run.

Resources

For more information on caregiver support, go to the National Caregiver Alliance website at http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/home.jsp.

References

Mazanec, P., & Bartel, J. (2002). Family caregiver perspectives of pain management. Cancer Practice, 10(1), S66-S69.

Parks, S. M., & Novielli, K. D. (2000). A practical guide to caring for caregivers. American Family Physician, 62(12), 2613-2620.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2001). A portrait of informal caregivers in America. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/files/publications/other/CaregiverChartbook2001.pdf.

Zarit, S., & Femia, E. (2008). Behavioral and psychosocial interventions for family caregivers. American Journal of Nursing, 108(9), 48-53.