Caring for the Caregiver

Maintaining the quality of life in caregivers is just as important as maintaining the quality of life in people with arthritis. Arthritis manifests differently in different individuals, but it is a debilitating, physically and psychologically taxing condition not just for the person living with arthritis, but the caregiver as well.

A caregiver could be a nominated family member, spouse, or close friend. Often the tools to support caregivers are often lacking. In this article we are going to share some tips on the following:

  1. Separating caregiving tasks and daily tasks
  2. Preserving and restoring health in the caregiver

Some types of Arthritis can lead to substantial deterioration of the joints and their functions, which could result in the increasing reliance on the provision of care e.g. cleaning the house, doing the laundry, helping out with appointments and transport.

Because we care about the person living with arthritis, we want to support and help them as much as we can but due to the slow and progressive nature of arthritis, this requires more dependency and comes with more demands over time.

It is not uncommon where we see carers put so much energy into caring that they forget to care for themselves. The tasks often required to care for your person are mostly comprised of care tasks, home tasks and help tasks.

Care tasks may include help with dressing, cleaning, walking, driving, showering and moving around.

Home tasks may involve housekeeping, laundry, cleaning, cooking.

Help tasks may involve attending appointments and social visits.

The level of care required often depends on the level of need.

To separate and distinguish your caregiver tasks to relieve some of the burden and avoid caregiver ‘burnout’ you should:

  1. Communicate effectively
    Be open and honest with the person you are caring for about your time and energy limitations. Agree on ways to work together so the person can ask for extra help when needed and accept when it may not be appropriate.
  2. Prioritize your most important daily tasks
    Use monthly to-do lists, checklists, calendar schedules to organize your days and prioritize most important to least important, also determine how much time it takes to complete certain tasks.
  3. Identify what is within your control and not in your control
    Some things are outside of your control. There are many services and support networks available for more formal support, if it’s required. In our webinar next Monday, on the 24th of April, we discuss this further, it is free to register and join in!

Some tips to preserve and restore health

  1. Sometimes caring can be physically strenuous. Learn how to safely provide ‘hands on assistance’ to prevent injury and muscle strain. Ask your primary health care provider or see a physiotherapist for advice around providing physical support and performing manual tasks safely. You may want to discuss the possibility of a risk assessment in the home environment with an Occupational Therapist, if assistive equipment could be required.
  2. Ensure you are getting enough, good quality sleep, getting enough good quality whole foods in the diet like fresh fruits and vegetables, and prioritizing exercise. Caring can be tiring and exhausting. It takes energy from the caregiver to help cope with the pain. These simple yet effective measures can boost energy levels and improve stress adaptation.
  3. Prioritize yourself. What does self-care mean to you? It can be any of the above, but it can also be meditation, deep breathing, watching a movie, journalling, catching up with friends, getting a massage. A minimum of once a week, schedule this in – whatever strategy it may be.
  4. It can be an isolating journey sometimes but join a support group and connect with others who understand what you are going through. Share your stories and ask lots of questions. Carers NSW have support groups you can join.
  5. Caring can be stressful which can lead to unhealthy behaviors, thoughts and emotions which can lead to anxiety, depression and poor health outcomes. Speaking to a mental health professional, who is equipped with tools to navigate your feelings can be incredibly helpful and beneficial for the longevity of your caring journey.

If you would like to learn more about care giving support, come along to our Webinar on Monday 24 April.

Mary Zagotsis
Health Educator
Arthritis NSW

April 2023