Nizhoni Health Systems

Family Caregivers are Crucial to Public Health

At Nizhoni Health, we are proud of the work our clinicians do every day to help our patients achieve quality health outcomes. While they are an important part of providing ethical care for everyone, there are some other hardworking people that should also be recognized for their effort. November is National Family Caregivers Month, and we cannot thank family caregivers enough for their cooperation. When they work together with us, our clients can truly thrive.

One way that caregivers can make things easier is to have someone’s emergency contact information all in one place. You can print the following Emergency Contact Form so anyone can quickly find the right person to call in a time of need.

Diane Daley is one of our Assistant Clinical Directors based in our Lawrence office. She wrote the following message dedicated to help all types of caregivers to support the people who need their care.

The Importance of Education and Support in Caregiving

Diane Daley, R.N.

In November 2015, President Obama set forth a proclamation to recognize family caregivers across the country for their unwavering dedication to act as a support system to loved ones in need. Being a caregiver-- whether it is to a loved one such as a spouse, parent or child or in a more professional capacity -- can be highly rewarding, but can also prove to be challenging on many levels. Though it tends to vary by circumstance, my experience working with elderly, disabled and addicted populations for more than a decade has given me a good sense of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to caregiving. Being a caregiver takes tremendous dedication, education and support.

Being a caregiver is complex even under the best of circumstances. When you are caring for a loved one it becomes all the more complicated. Those considering taking on this role need to research and educate themselves to ensure they to go into it with their eyes open. Caregivers need to understand the patient’s medications, symptoms, coping skills for both themselves and those they’re caring for and familiarize themselves with additional resources and support that may be available. Whether you are dealing with an elderly parent or a daughter who was just released from a rehabilitation facility, this understanding and awareness is essential for you to truly be able to help your loved one.

For someone with a disease – whether it be physical, substance abuse-related or psychological – a caregiver needs to understand the disease process.

There are many signs and symptoms to look for if someone in your care is decompensating. For instance, if a patient with mental illness stops taking medication they may go through severe withdrawal, experience lethargy, have trouble responding to stimuli, or even become hyper verbal, manic or have trouble speaking. These symptoms can come on quickly and without warning, so it is important to contact the patient’s primary physician immediately. While it may seem like you’re being overbearing, keeping a close eye on your loved one to note any significant changes in their mood or behavior is vital – especially when they are stopping or starting a new medication. It is also crucial to remember that organizations such as the National Alliance for Caregiving, the Family Caregiver Alliance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and even the American Association of Retired Persons can provide much needed resources and support so a caregiver isn’t left alone.

Handling this level of care on a daily basis can become draining quickly, which is often hard for caregivers to admit, especially when the person they’re caring for is a very close family member. This is where coping skills and community support come into play. Often times, patients can become combative or unresponsive. In these situations:

  • Take slow, deep breaths.
  • Walk away.
  • Don’t react.
  • Remember you’re not alone. There in no shame in struggling with this, and it is okay to seek assistance and talk with others about your situation.
  • Get help when you need it. This is a big job and one that you do not have to do all on your own. There are organizations which specialize in home care that offer skilled nursing, social workers or mental health support and they will work with you on a full- or part-time basis to help care for your loved one.

It is important to consider that patients may often be more compliant with outside caregivers. Because there is not a sense of unconditional love and support, patients may feel that they must listen to the outside source. Those sources can also offer advice and assistance and act as a sounding board for you. I often hear from family caregivers we have worked with, and how having that extra bit of help and encouragement provides them with peace of mind.

As a caregiver, it is most important to remember that while you take care of your loved one, you must also be sure to take care of yourself. You owe to the both of you not to go it alone. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance as you help your loved ones heal.

If you find this article or the attached handout helpful, feel free to share them with anyone who could use them.