For every 100 million Americans who live with chronic pain, there are that many caretakers. The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP conducted a national survey looking at family caregiving in the United States. The average caregiver renders 21 hours a week of unpaid care, has been caregiving for about 5-1/2 years, and can expect to maintain that level of care for an additional 5 years.
There are burdens for the caretaker just as there are life changes for the pain patient. Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. And working together is success.
Ulf Jakobsson, professor of the Center for Primary Health Care Research at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, explained, “Beyond the pain, there may be adverse effects on daily activities and quality of life for patients and their families. Some of these effects may include disruption of an individual’s ability to concentrate, be productive, socialize, or sleep, and may lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety.”
For the Pain Patient
It’s really easy to get lost in your pain. Yes, it can be all consuming but do not let that stop you from living. There are actions you can take every day to help you find your new normal. Start here.
Move. Try simple exercises or yoga. Movement helps loosen your muscles which can decrease your pain while allowing you to feel productive. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Every little bit helps. Depending on your pain levels, you can work with a physical therapist to avoid further injuring yourself. The main goal of physical therapy is to educate patients on the mathematics of stretching and strengthening, which in turn, aids in managing your chronic back pain — eventually accelerating your tissue healing — leading to recovery.
Invite. Ask your caretaker to attend a doctor’s appointment with you. Ironically, sometimes, if a caretaker doesn’t hear the information directly from a medical professional, they may not fully grasp the depths of your pain. Yes, they observe you on a daily basis, but it’s different. They may only see that you need guidance and may not understand why. Bringing them along to your appointment will allow them to hear straight from the horse’s mouth. It may even help them to appreciate how you feel on a daily basis when you ask for help.
Join a Support Group. Even if your caretaker apprehends your chronic back pain a little more, they may never completely relate to what you are going through. That’s why finding a local or virtual support group where people with your condition gather can be helpful to speak with like minded people who feel your pain, every day.
For the Caregiver
Guadalupe Palos, a licensed clinical social worker, registered nurse, and clinical research manager at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas , shared, “Caregivers of people in pain face a unique danger — it’s very easy to make the pain experience the center of the entire family’s world.
“For example, the atmosphere in a home often may be linked to whether the person in pain has a good or bad day. If it is a bad day, the caregiver’s reactions may range from being overly protective to silent anger. Whatever the reaction, it may affect other family members and even the person experiencing the pain. If the caregiver uses empathy and maintains a sense of calm, the family world is safe. But if the reaction is negative, it contributes to the chaos of the pain experience.”
Stay Calm and Be Supportive. Palos says to encourage the patient to become a self-advocate for their pain management. If they are included in their care, it may distract them from concentrating on their pain.
Communication is Key. Speaking, watching and listening are three crucial ingredients necessary to care effectively. Palos also explains that direct verbal communication between the patient and caregiver offers a better evaluation for greater pain management.
Take Time for Yourself. This is not being selfish. This is a way to keep your sanity. You are just as important as the patient you care for and you can’t properly care for another if you neglect to care for yourself.
“There are some simple things, including (a) doing something for yourself every day, such as meditating, taking a walk, or talking to a close friend; (b) not isolating yourself because of your caregiver role: (c) accepting the help that people offer; (d) bringing humor into your life; and (e) finding your spiritual self,” Palos concluded.
All for One and One for All
When you’re a full-time caretaker, it’s easy to think that your job is to sit stationary in the house with the patient watching television or waiting on them. Get creative. Find ways to get outside the house and do things that meets each of your internal needs and breaks up the in-house routine.
Get Busy, Together. Engage in normal activities that the pain patient and caregiver alike can do unitedly. Think outside of the box. Consider seeing a movie together, allowing the caretaker to choose what you see. Or try a mediation session where you both can get your zen on while bonding in a unique fashion. Regular meditation can work to lower the body’s level of pain as well as improve sleep.
Get Active, Together. Start small. Instead of driving to that appointment or errand, try walking there together. It doesn’t have to be a sprint, just whatever your bodies can handle. If walking to an appointment will not work due to your location or the patient’s pain levels, go for that leisurely walk around your neighborhood with one another. The vitamin D and wind on your faces should improve your mood and allow you to take that break from the household monotony.
Lifestyle Coach and Certified Personal Trainer Simone Krame says, “Fitness is not always running the marathon or pushing ourselves to the extreme until we puke. It’s about moving in a way that feels good. It’s about getting that energy flowing and the endorphins moving – doing something that helps us. Our bodies are the physical homes for our spiritual selves, and we must take care of them in order to live a healthy lifestyle.”
So whether you’re the caretaker or the patient, instead of working against each other, work with one another. For the one in 10 Americans who live with chronic pain and their associated caretakers, this one’s for you. After all, we cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together.
Macey Bernstein is a content specialist with a passion for crafting useful and actionable content that improves the lives of her audience. She is a dedicated reporter with a nose for news, a love for community, and a reputation for impeccable ethics. From writing press releases and legal briefs to event planning and execution she displays exceptional skill in journalism and creative direction. Macey is a graduate of the West Virginia University School of Journalism with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations. For more information visit her Website.