It's never easy when a loved one grows old or falls ill. As family or friends, our instinct is to rush to their sides to offer them support, comfort and encouragement to soldier on. Because we're so often thrown into these situations without knowing quite what to do, caregiving can be a lot like navigating a foreign city. You don't know the language and the streets are unfamiliar. To help you find your way, we have five simple tips to improve your role as caregiver and help you provide a reassuring and calm presence for your loved one.
Study body language
As your parent's health declines, he or she may lose the ability – or inclination – to communicate with you verbally. He or she may be upset, hurting or distressed, but not able to share these feelings with you directly. By being sensitive to your loved one's body language, you may be able to foster communication and help offer soothing and comfort sooner.
Throughout the course of your care, your loved one may frustrate or confuse you with his or her actions. Remember to take a deep breath, step away if need be and proceed calmly and patiently. Keep in mind that your parent may be reacting to losing his or her independence. Aging can be a scary thing, and your loved one needs you to be a calm and steady presence in his or her life.
Remember your loved one
If your parent is suffering from Alzheimer's disease or dementia, you may find yourself losing sight of the vibrant and spirited person he or she used to be. Ensuring your loved one is always treated with respect and dignity requires you to remember the man or woman inside. By doing so, you'll be able to anticipate and respond better to his or her needs as well.
"Remember to take a deep breath and proceed patiently."
Ask for help
Don't be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to have all the answers. You've stepped in to be an advocate for your parent, navigating the medical system and managing his or her symptoms. There will be times when you need the help of others to continue on. Build a resource team of people you can depend on, whether they're there to offer medical advice or give you a much-needed moment all to yourself.
Pressure, stress, anxiety and depression can creep up on caregivers. Providing ongoing support and comfort to an aging or ill relative can really take a toll on you. Be mindful of how you're feeling. In order to provide the best care to others, you'll first need to take care of yourself. See a counselor to discuss your feelings, get adequate rest, squeeze in exercise when you can and eat well-balanced, nourishing meals.
Stepping in as a caregiver for an ailing parent can seem like a monumental and heartbreaking task. These simple tips may help you move forward in your new role and provide the type of care that helps your loved one feel safe, respected and comforted.