It's important to set your own goals and work hard to achieve them. – Yuichiro Miura
This quote by celebrated alpinist Yuichiro Miura is especially meaningful when applied to patient care. Many patients know the basics of becoming healthier: eat right, sleep well, exercise every day, and stop unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking too much alcohol. But they find themselves unable to do so in the long run because of poor goal-setting and action-planning habits.
Patients want to get better, but complying to orders for lifestyle changes has many barriers, so it’s important to tackle these obstacles right from the start—by setting good goals.
For example, in preparing nutritious meals, the family caring for a patient may run into several difficulties including a lack of culinary skills or the time to shop for and prepare fresh, vegetable-based meals. Finances can be a problem, too, because eating healthier may be more expensive. If the family shares and enjoys a culture where high-fat foods are meal mainstays, it will be difficult for a patient to comply with a low-fat diet up against temptation and lifelong habits.
As a caregiver, how can you help patients in this regard? The key is goal setting coupled with solid determination and a strong commitment from the patient. Just as the quote says, the goal and (most of the) hard work should come from the patient, since they are most likely to stick to a plan they chose for themselves. A caregiver's role is to guide the patient, motivate them, and cheer them on as they take the journey to achieving those goals.
If you think goal setting will benefit your patient, here are some helpful tips you can follow to get them started:
Collaborate with your supervisor or nurse regarding goals that can be set with the patient. The reason for this strategy is not to dictate what a patient should aim for but to have ideas that will be highly beneficial to them. There will be times they are clueless on how to start, and you as their caregiver are the one to encourage them on. Help them think of goals using the following prompts:
• Is there something you want to do differently that will help you get better?
• What would you like to do for your health that you haven’t done or been able to do yet?
Put the patient's goals in writing. Writing down goals makes a patient's plans feel official because you acted as a guide and witness. You can also jot down their progress on the same sheet as they carry out their plan.
Come up with SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Time-Based. Let’s stick with the example of eating more nutritious foods. How can you set SMART goals with a patient looking to improve their diet?
• Specific goals detail what a patient wants to happen. So, instead of "eat nutritious food," try, "include more fruits and vegetables and less red meat in my diet."
• A measurable goal describes how often or how much an action is needed. For our example, it could be, “filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables.”
• Goals should also be appropriate, meaning they should have positive effects for a patient given their health condition.
• Realistic goals describe goals a patient feels confident about and is likely to achieve.
• Time-based goals have a duration or time frame to carry out the plans. In this case, "every meal" would be the set time.
Break down goals into several objectives. Objectives are more specific than larger goals. In this case, an objective could be creating sample menus that include vegetable dishes and fruit platters.
Talk with the patient regarding possible barriers. Discuss how you can help them overcome those stumbling blocks to achieving their goals.
Celebrate small successes with every milestone reached. Make every completed step a reason to recognize efforts so it encourages the patient to continue the challenge and repeat positive behavior.
When you help patients set and achieve goals, many wonderful things happen, and the patient is better off than before. If you haven't tried goal setting with a patient yet, it's time you do. Then expect to see positive results!
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