Being the primary carer for a loved one can be extremely rewarding and testimony to the love and connection you have with that person during their life. Many spouses and adult children do not think twice about taking on this important role when their loved one needs care. While the commitment to care is never questioned, many people simply do not understand the enormity of the role and the practical skills and knowledge required to optimize their loved ones well-being and maintaining their ability to be the primary carer long term.
This blog aims to assist you and your loved ones to identify the gaps in those skills and provide guidance on how to Prepare To Care.
When a loved ones health declines and they can no longer manage their own physical well-being, a primary carer normally steps in to assist. Things to consider when you are caring for a loved ones physical well-being:
- Nutrition – Can they still eat the same food as before, does their condition or medications affect what they can eat? The treating doctor or dietician can help you stay on track and prevent any nasty side-effects of eating the wrong things. If the texture of food needs to change due to swallowing problems, this can have a devastating effect on the person’s enjoyment of food. Getting advice on how to improve this experience and prevent the person eating ‘baby food’ can change this negative experience enormously. If their appetite has decreased, how do you ensure they get a balanced diet? It is normal for a person’s appetite to lessen during illness, ensuring they have access to a well-balanced diet is essential and there are many supplements that can help. Accessing the expertise of a dietitian helps take the guess work out. There are also a number of companies who provide ready-made meals, or will cook for the individual, with a full understanding of any restrictions in content or texture. Mouth care plays a large part in the ability to enjoy food and meals, so a regular checkups at the dentist, as well as ensuring dentures are well fitted, can improve the eating experience.
- Continence – while continence, or incontinence is not normally a dinner table conversation, it is an issue for millions of Australians. A lot of people ‘suffer’ in silence due to the embarrassment of asking for help. Poorly managed continence can lead to long term health issues, getting a proper assessment and advice from a continence professional is essential to ensure that all treatments to improve the situation are tried Choosing the right continence aid (pad/nappy) is also really importance as the wrong pad choice can be detrimental to the individuals skin, causing soreness and irritation, and can be costly.
- Skin Integrity – our skin is the largest organ in our body and is often neglected. As we get older or frailer our skin becomes increasing fragile, takes longer to heal and skin that is broken can become infected and cause a person to become very unwell. Good skin care, especially if the person has continence issues, or health concerns that increase the skins likelihood of breaking down, can prevent discomfort and illness. Daily application of a moisturizer can prevent breaks and infection.
- Falls Prevention – many elderly patients end up in hospital due to a fall. This may be due to an underlying condition or be due to increasing frailty. Maintaining, and building muscle tone (yes most people can build muscle tone even the elderly) can greatly reduce the risk of falling, and most importantly reduce the risk of serious injury when you do fall. Being involved in a balance and muscle building exercise routine is great for everyone.
- Sensory Support – a change in a person’s hearing, sight or ability to speak fundamentally changes the way they can interact with the world around them. Failure to optimize these senses can quickly cause social isolation. Getting hearing and eyesight assessed routinely will ensure that the individual is hearing and seeing as much as they can. There are organisations who specialise in modifications of the home and provide specialized equipment for hearing and visually impaired. If an individual loses the ability to communicate verbally, speech pathology services can optimize their ability and offer suggestions for other communication tools to reduce the impairment.
- Medication Safety – medications can positively impact a person’s ability to function and keep their symptoms at bay, however they can also be life-threatening if taken incorrectly. There are a lot of support services available to ensure that your loved-ones medications are taken correctly – this can range from a Webster pack, a electronic medication administration system or a support service to visit and administer the medications.
If you have a family you have family dynamics. Many families work well together and share the caring responsibilities – these families are exceptional, and rare. Often the caring role is taken on by one family member whilst the others may appreciate this, they do not always understand the commitment or the impact on the main carer’s own life. Having a family meeting and discussing what the caring role involves, and assigning some responsibilities to other family members can help ease the load on the main carer and will reduce the impact and prevent carers stress. Having all the family members skilled in the caring role will also provide a sustainable solution for the individual should the main carer need a break or be unavailable.
Caring for the carer
As we indicated in our opening paragraph, taking on the caring role can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be tiring, overwhelming and never ending, all of which can lead to Carer burnout. Self-care is a fashionable term in our society, but it is absolutely essential for those who are caring for others to recognize that they too need to be cared for by themselves. Accessing regular respite from your role whether it is by other family members support or engaging an agency to support you will allow you to care for longer. After all, if you are unable to continue, what will be the outcome for your loved one?
Perth Care + Companion Company offers a Care Coaching service where we will guide you through the maze of responsibilities you may have taken on by being a carer and help you develop a sustainable care plan to promote wellbeing for you and your loved one. Call 08 9276 1520 for more information or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org