Caring for the Caregivers: Tips for Caregivers

October 22, 2015
  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
    Communication is the foundation of any good relationship. This becomes even more important when dealing with the upheavals and uncertainties of cardiovascular disease. “Life-threatening events threaten bonds,” said psychologist Heather Tulloch, PhD. “It’s important for patients and partners to know that each is accessible and responsive to the other.” 
  2. Hold on to Your Sense of Compassion and Empathy
    Recovering from a cardiac event or living with a chronic disease is incredibly difficult, for both the patient and the caregiver. Remember that your loved one is feeling the same anxiety, stress and frustration you are. As frustrated or worn out as you may get, try to remember that you’re in this together.
  3. Write It Down
    When a loved one is ill, important information comes at you at times when it can be hard to absorb and retain. So, write things down. Some people find keeping a journal of all their interactions and the information they are given can be helpful.Writing things down is also useful for meeting with your loved one’s care team. Write down all your questions and think about who to ask. A dietitian is best placed to answer questions about food, while a physiotherapist is the best person to ask about exercise. Your cardiologist or pharmacist can answer questions about medication.
  4. Make Time for Yourself
    When you’re caring for a loved one, you may feel like you’re on duty 24/7. Take time to recharge. Even a half hour each day to see a friend, read a book, go for a walk or just sit alone can make a huge difference to your overall well-being.“You’re going to be a better caregiver if you’re getting a good night’s sleep, eating properly and taking time for yourself,” said Jane Brownrigg, Clinical Manager of Cardiac Rehabilitation.
  5. Always Say Yes to Offers of Help
    Don’t try to be a superhero. You can’t do everything yourself. If a family member, friend or neighbour offers to help out, say yes! Whether it’s fixing a meal, driving your loved one to a medical appointment or rehabilitation session, cleaning your house or just sitting with them to give you a break, it reduces the pressure on you.Help doesn’t only come from your personal networks. There are resources in the community. Many organizations have volunteer drivers to take your loved one to appointments. If you can afford it, a personal chef can prepare several days’ worth of meals and put them in your freezer. Home care services can help with much more than just medical care. They can help with bathing, dressing and household tasks. (See the Heart Institute’s Caregiver Resources listing.)
  6. Give Control Back to Your Loved One
    Recovery from a cardiac event is a challenging process. Both you and your loved one may be thrust into unfamiliar roles, dealing with tasks you’re not used to. It can be frustrating and frightening, and there’s a natural tendency to want to do everything you can for your loved one. But letting him or her take back some of the activities of daily life is an important part of the recovery process and can offer a greater sense of control.Dressing on their own, greater physical activity and participation in household tasks can help your loved one get better, and lessen the burden on you. “Patients want to make some of their own decisions,” said occupational therapist Linda Varas Brulé. “One of the hardest things is loss of control of their lives. Give some tasks back to them. It’s good for them and takes something away from you.”
  7. Remember: You’re a Helper, Not a Policeman
    Recovering from a cardiac event or managing chronic heart disease often requires lifestyle changes. It can be tempting to see yourself as responsible for making those changes happen in the person you are caring for, whether it’s a healthier diet, more physical activity or quitting smoking. You can’t force these things. Trying to do so can be counterproductive and actually create resistance to change, which may have harmful effects on your relationship. The most you can do is encourage and support your loved one. 
  8. Focus on Priorities
    You can’t do everything at once. Pick your priorities and focus on those. Write down the things you want to deal with later and stop thinking about them until it’s time.

Read the rest of the Caring for the Caregivers series: