As a cancer patient, I've been on the receiving end of plenty of caregiving; as a daughter, I've been on the caregiving end to both of my parents at various times. Below are some strategies that fit both scenarios.
5 TIPS FOR CAREGIVERS...
- BE AN ADVOCATE FOR A DAY Put yourself in charge of note-taking during a medical appointment — but be up for the challenge! Let the patient know you'll be doing this beforehand. He or she can compile their own list of questions if they like (or you can offer to help them do this), but during the appointment, you should be the one to make detailed notes of everything that is said. This is harder than it seems; you really have to listen closely and pay attention and ask any questions that come up for you or that the patient may have forgotten to ask. You cannot expect the patient to do this for themselves. CASE IN POINT: Though my husband attended my medical appointments with me, he is a horrible note-taker. I ended up asking all the questions and writing down all the answers. It was overwhelming. IF YOU ARE THE HEALTH CARE PROVIDER: Get into the habit of asking who will be taking the notes for the patient that day!
- IF YOU OFFER TO HELP, DON'T JUST MEANT IT; DO IT! It's not the patient's job to think up things you can do for them — or to come up with ways to make you feel better. They have enough on their plate. If you know the patient well enough to offer to help them, then come to the offer party prepared! Think of several things you are willing to do, then give the patient a few options to choose from. CASE IN POINT: A close friend of mine came over one Friday afternoon while I was recovering from surgery and she made me lunch. She knew I liked tunafish and salad, so while I sat at the kitchen table and relaxed, she prepared me a delicious, simple and healthful lunch while we chatted. Afterwards, she cleaned up my kitchen, then changed my sheets. I was in heaven.
- SEND THE CAREGIVER TO THE MOVIES Call whomever is handling the majority of the caregiving for the patient, and tell them you bought him or her two movie tickets. Then make a plan to come over to "care give" while they go to the movies! Films are an excellent escape from the stresses of caregiving. As the caregiver, you can also call up one of the friends who has said "Let me know if there is anything I can do" and tell them, Um, yeah! Can you come over Sunday and sit with Emily while I go for a run (or take a nap or whatever it is you never have time to do anymore but that is a know stress-reducer for you)?
- THINK OF CREATIVE, MINDLESS DISTRACTION GIFTS Buy the patient (or the caregiver) a subscription to Netflix. Or go old-school: Send a gift subscription for a magazine you know they'll love or have the local newspaper delivered to their house. If they love listening to music, consider an iTunes gift card. (Audio books make great gifts too!) Or call the patient or caregiver from Starbucks and bring them a coffee — and a gift card. You get the idea. You don't have to spend much money to get great value — and a great mental distraction.
- OFFER TO HAVE DINNER DELIVERED This is a real treat for the patient and the caregiver — they'll get exactly what they want to eat, and there's no cooking required on your part! (The perfect plan for busy people.) Call the caregiver directly and read them the menu over the phone (this can be fun if they are feeling up for it). But if they don't have the energy or there is a lot going on at the house, drop off the restaurant menu and ask them to circle whatever they want. Stop by the house later and pick up the menu, then place the order yourself. Pre-pay it, and be sure to add a tip. The delivery person should simply ring the bell, deliver the food and be gone. This should be a treat for the family, not a hassle. IMPORTANT: Under no circumstances should you stay for dinner! And throw in a dessert for fun. A good friend ordered me the most delicious bread pudding as a surprise treat and I was in heaven. IF YOU PREFER TO DO THE COOKING YOURSELF, put some thought into the meal and make it fresh and healthy. If they're healing from surgery, for instance, prepare a main dish with plenty of protein. Stay away from soy products if they are ER/PR positive. Avoid dairy if they are lactose intolerant. Make some homemade bread. If you are delivering a homemade dinner yourself, make sure it is ready to eat when you drop it off. You don't want the caregiver or patient to have to do anything but relax, eat and enjoy. Ring the bell, hand off the food, and be on your way. The caregiver or patient shouldn't have to worry about making dinner conversation with you. Drop and go is the only way to go!