Recent Caregiver Blogs

Posted: 10/12/2018 5:16:23 PM

How to Protect Cancer Patients from Colds and Flu

Cancer is a scary word. Often, “the Big C” is incurable, and the journey toward prolonging and improving the quality of life of a cancer patient is a huge challenge for caregivers.

Cancer and the common cold or flu are a deadly combination. This duo spells big trouble. Let's discuss why.

The common cold is caused by a virus. Symptoms include sneezing, runny and stuffy nose, and cough. The flu is worse than colds in the sense that the patient will also have a fever, muscle aches, and an extreme feeling of being unwell—but it’s nothing that a healthy immune system can’t handle on its own. When the body is weaker than usual, a person with the flu may be hospitalized but will soon recover.

For healthy people, colds and flu are diseases that can be overcome with just adequate rest, hydration, and good nutrition. An extra source of Vitamin C can also do wonders and shorten sick days.

For cancer patients, it is a different story altogether. When the body is battling cancer, the immune system is very vulnerable and compromised. It cannot fight infections as easily. A simple cold might mean severe complications that could lead to death.

In the US, the cold and flu season typically starts in October and peaks between December and February. By May, the number of cases usually drops. This means that the cancer patient and their caregiver must be on guard to make sure they stay away from those infections.

What should caregivers do to help patients fight off colds and flu?

1. Be aware of the early signs of infection.

Do not ignore a scratchy throat or a few sneezes. It is important to provide the right care to the cancer patient before the infection becomes full blown. The earlier symptoms are recognized, the better the outcome from treatment.

2. When early symptoms appear, consult the physician immediately.

The caregiver must report these symptoms to the nurse or supervisor so the patient can be given appropriate care as early as possible.

3. The physician usually gives their patient the flu vaccine. Do not miss this appointment.

The flu vaccination makes it less likely that the patient will catch an infection. If they do, they are likely to recover more quickly and less likely to get complications.

4. Practice good hygiene and frequent handwashing.

Cold and flu viruses are generally spread by droplets, but sometimes these germs survive after the droplets land on other body parts or objects.

When these live microorganisms get into the patient's nose, eyes, or mouth because of poor handwashing and sanitation practices, the cancer patient quickly becomes infected.

Practicing proper handwashing is, therefore, one of the basic defenses against colds and flu. The caregiver must also wear a mask when they have a cold, or better yet, rest from providing care when they are sick.

5. Avoid people with infections.

The reason is simple. They are the source of the microorganisms. So, avoid them as much as possible. If you are going to a place where there will be a lot of people, wear a quality surgical mask. This also means establishing rules for visitors.

6. Pump up their immune system with healthy foods, adequate fluids, and early morning sunshine.

Cancer patients have weakened immune systems, so the most natural way to replenish antibodies, or fighting cells, is to nourish them with cancer-fighting foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Early morning sunshine is a good source of Vitamin D, also a disease-busting vitamin. And, of course, water and fruit-infused drinks such as lemon water are great ways to hydrate the body.

Caregivers and cancer are mortal enemies. Cancer is a hard opponent to beat, but caregivers can help the patient dodge the dangerous complications brought about by colds and flu—by simply being extra careful, clean, and caring.

Posted: 10/10/2018 3:17:43 PM

4 Meaningful and Creative Ways to Promote a Patient’s Wellbeing

Caregivers are often their patient’s lifeline, performing what the patient cannot do on their own.

Caregivers face all sorts of challenges. Not only do they need to be efficient in their tasks, but they usually need be creative in meaningful ways so their patients receive the best care possible. Doing simple things that help relieve a patient's pain, anxiety, and boredom, for example, can go a long way to improve their condition.

Can caregivers perform these kinds of therapies? In the strictest sense of the word, they cannot because therapies are structured activities that need to be monitored and evaluated, and caregivers are not trained or licensed to do so. However, they can utilize the same resources as those in therapies to help their patients.

Here are some creative ways to promote a patient’s wellbeing:

1. Music

Music therapy is conducted by a trained professional who uses music to promote a patient's wellbeing. But caregivers do not need to be specialists to use music to care for patients. Simply ask them what their favorite songs are or what music relaxes them and find a way to have those playing when days are gloomy or when stress levels are up.

If the patient cannot express themselves well, like those with dementia, you could ask family members what the patient’s favorite songs are and then keep those songs on, especially if it has a calming effect when their confusion is at its worst.

Do not restrict them to listening quietly alone, either. They might want to sing along, dance to the tune, or invite others to listen. Allow this as long as they are safe in doing so.

Music improves mood, increases happiness, reduces stress and anxiety, improves memory, and eases pain. Go ahead and press that play button. Don’t forget to enjoy the music with them!

2. Art

In the world of therapy, art is used to help patients express themselves without words. It is also a way to shift the patient’s attention away from their symptoms by focusing on the project in front of them.

We all knew how to have fun with paints and crayons as a child, and it's no different from hobbies like cross stitch or origami as an adult. The options are vast and materials are usually not too difficult to obtain, especially with online shopping available.

The best way to motivate patients is to let them see people in action as they do their art, or showing off the finished piece done by a fellow patient. If that doesn’t work, you could start a small project yourself and ask them to help out. Soon, they’ll catch the bug and want to do one on their own!

3. Introduction of a companion animal

Pet or animal-assisted therapy is the use of animals like dogs or cats to improve overall health. It has a calming effect and is found to reduce stress. Having an animal to care for increases a patient’s sense of purpose and improves their motivation to work towards their own health.

If the patient is an animal lover, it might be a good idea to introduce a pet. Of course, not all health settings will allow this. Hospitals, for example, are strict when it comes to allowing pets inside their premises. But if you are a home health worker, this could be a good option, as long as the patient is safe and comfortable at all times.

4. Exercise

Physical exercise can have countless benefits, including promoting circulation, normalizing blood pressure, and boosting the immune system. There are many different ways for a patient to exercise, and the caregiver must always refer to the care plan or ask the nurse or physician which movements are safe to be performed.

When a patient is bedridden or has weakness because of a stroke, the caregiver is sometimes asked to move the patient’s body parts without any help from the patient. This is called passive exercise.

On the other hand, if the patient has no movement restrictions, one of the safest exercises for them is walking. A walk in the garden is a good way to reduce boredom, stimulate a good appetite, and encourage restful sleep.

Caring for patients is not just all about routines and daily activities. While these tasks are essential in nurturing a patient back to health, there are other means to contribute to overall wellbeing, like music, art, pets, and exercise, just to list a few. Caregivers should feel free to get creative and go the extra mile to help patients in these ways.

Posted: 9/30/2018 2:54:16 PM

A Healthy Caregiver-Patient Relationship is a Win-Win Situation

Caregiving is a lot of work. Caregivers often feel overwhelmed with loads of tasks, and it’s easy to mistake being this busy with a genuine caregiver-patient relationship.

Ironically, the meaningful interaction in the relationship is lost when all a caregiver has time for is crossing tasks of the to-do list, while forgetting to check in with what the patient thinks and feels. In healthcare, this problem can be all too real when a list of tasks replaces the care in caregiving.

A strong caregiver-patient relationship increases trust. Patients are likely to trust the healthcare team and follow treatment instructions, leading to quality care and positive outcomes. Patients who trust their caregivers also tend to open up about their issues, concerns, and symptoms, which could serve as a gateway to a more thorough examination by the nurse or the physician.

Quality one-on-one time can make a patient feel better, respected, and appreciated, rather than just feeling like a disease to be treated. Genuine conversations also help ease a patient's negative feelings, such as anger, sadness, and anxiety, which makes caregiving all the more significant.

Making positive connections with your patients is truly important, so don't let this effort fall through the cracks.

So now that we know that having positive connections with patients is a must rather than a bonus, what can you do to make this a daily achievement?

1. Decide to make an effort.

Building rapport with the patient does not often happen spontaneously, so unless you are a people person who really loves interacting with others, you have to decide to act first. Go ahead and initiate the conversation!

Look at the patient directly and properly introduce yourself. Smile often. Topics of conversation should not be limited to their symptoms and illness. When the conversation is about the patient and their life outside their health complaints, let the stories flow.

2. Be sincere.

Patients can sense if you are genuinely working for their wellbeing. They can also tell if all you care about is finishing your shift, or if you complete your tasks half-heartedly. They resent that kind of attitude and tend to avoid interacting with you.

If you are having a hard time at work because of a personal or workplace issue, it’s ok to let them know that your day is not going so well but that it’s not their fault. Be sure to remind them you still have their best interests in mind. You might be surprised—they may even cheer you up!

Another way to show sincerity is to listen and react appropriately. If a patient starts telling you about their daughter Mary being sick with flu, be sure to ask them how Mary is doing by name, not just referring to a “daughter.“ This extra effort can really make a difference to your patient!

3. Ask how the patient is feeling, what they are thinking, and what their preferences are.

This is focusing on the patient and their unique qualities, not just their illness and health needs. You can also tell them what you observe about them. You can say, "You seem tired today," or "You’re looking a little down." These words validate what your patient is going through and they can easily connect with you once they feel you are really concerned.

4. Use touch.

Touch is a powerful way to establish a caregiver-patient bond, if it is done with sincere gestures and thoughtful communication. When appropriate, place a hand over the hand or shoulders of an anxious patient, and you will see them feel better instantly.

5. Provide quality care.

While we said that the caregiver-patient relationship is not just about accomplishing daily duties, quality work speaks a thousand words. Make sure you’re doing the right tasks at the right time, get organized, and prioritize, so you can work as efficiently as possible while maintaining the highest quality care.

The essence of making positive connections at work is centered around the patient, who we all want to get better. Let's not forget that building healthy relationships with patients is also about you, the caregiver, finding deeper meaning and purpose in what you do. Positive caregiver-patient relationships reignite your passion for your work, making it a win-win situation from every angle.

Posted: 9/24/2018 11:34:44 AM

Depression in Caregivers: Gloomy Days that Won’t Go Away

Whether you are a family caregiver or a paid health aide, caring for patients can sometimes pull you down in ways that make it hard to recover. We’re talking about depression in caregivers.

Providing care to patients with a chronic disease and who are highly dependent can bring about overwhelming stress, frustration, fear, and physical exhaustion, all of which can negatively affect the caregiver’s mental wellbeing, especially long term.

Many caregivers experiencing the symptoms of depression do not recognize that they are currently experiencing something more than typical sadness. Some will not admit to themselves that they carry such a burden because they consider it an embarrassment or sign of weakness. They also worry about people passing judgment and feeling like a failure.

Cases of mental health problems in caregivers are all too common and very real. In family caregivers alone, 40% to 70% show signs of depression. Out of these numbers, about half meet the criteria for major depression, a very serious type of depression.

There are many signs and symptoms of major depression. Check to see if any of the following apply to your situation:

1. You are extremely sad and prefer to be alone. You often cry without any apparent reason.

2. You have a very poor appetite and have lost weight. Sometimes, you might also binge eat or swallow large pieces of food uncontrollably until you are too full.

3. You do not find pleasure in anything. Nothing interests you anymore. Even your favorite hobbies and activities don’t sound as exciting. You do not look forward to enjoying good food or doing fun activities.

4. You have difficulty sleeping. You lie in bed and struggle to turn off negative thoughts, but to no avail. You wake up in the morning feeling like you haven't slept a wink.

5. Persistent tiredness and lack of energy. You don't feel rested even after a long night's sleep. Not even halfway through the morning, you are already exhausted.

6. You feel helpless and hopeless. You give up on your situation, believing that there is no solution or that the situation will never get better.

7. You hate yourself for feeling so down. You feel guilty because you can't care for yourself, your spouse, or your kids. Your work has suffered big time, or worse, you were fired because of errors.

8. You are easily angered. Your outbursts are too mean and emotional for simple situations.

9. You have brain fog most of the time and cannot think clearly enough to make important decisions. You just let things happen like you’ve lost all control.

10. You have thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life.

If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, it's very important for you to reach out to someone, and get professional help immediately.

Here’s how a caregiver with depression put it:

“To me, depression is a thick, dark, menacing cloud that hovers over me wherever I go . . . I can't outrun it or hide from it. It is always there . . . it keeps coming, as if it is trying to push all the air out of my body." (CaregiverAction)

Depression is not something that you can talk yourself through, or snap out of. It’s a battle you cannot fight alone (and you shouldn’t have to!). If you’ve been having gloomy days that won’t go away, talk to someone you trust today.

Posted: 9/17/2018 1:34:50 PM

7 Challenges of Caring for Patients Who Are Locked in a Paralyzed Body

Paralysis is a loss of function, sensation, and control of a body part. It is often the result of stroke, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis, a disabling disease of the nerves.

Just how common is paralysis? The answer might shock you.

The latest study done by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation revealed that about 1 in 50 Americans experience a form of paralysis. That’s about 5.4 million people in the US, or the populations of Los Angeles and Dallas combined!

Given this number, a lot of people find themselves caring for those who struggle with loss of function of a body part.

Paralysis can be either complete, with the total inability to move or feel in a body part, or incomplete, where there is some movement or sensation. It can affect the face, one arm or leg, both legs, the left or right side of the body, or from the neck down, depending on which part of the brain or spinal cord is injured or diseased. A person with quadriplegia, or loss of function of the arms, legs, and torso, will be more dependent than a person with only the legs affected, for example.

For caregivers, caring for a paralyzed patient can be taxing physically as well as mentally. Brace yourself for these challenges in patient care:

1. Lifting and Turning

Essentially, you are an extension of a patient’s parts of the body that have lost function. So, if they need to get out of bed, you will need the physical strength to lift and turn your patient. You must also know how to safely move the patient. Remember to use proper body mechanics to prevent pulled muscles and spinal cord injuries. Use lifters, turning sheets, supports, and other assistive devices so that you do not bear the patient's full weight.

2. Activities of Daily Living

Depending on the patient’s unaffected bodily functions, they will need varying levels of care daily.

For a quadriplegic patient, you will do most things for them, like transferring from the bed to the bathroom. You will start their bath and test water temperature because, other than loss of movement, they will most likely have little to no feeling in the affected body parts. Getting another companion to help give your patient a full bath is a good idea.

You will also need to help them eat, get ready for bed, and tend to grooming and hygiene needs. It may sound like a lot of work, but you will be rewarded with seeing your patient’s mental and physical health improve each day.

For those who are somewhat independent, for example, those who use a wheelchair and have their upper body functions intact, your role could be to simply prepare bath supplies and a change of clothes. You may also need to wash body parts they cannot reach.

3. Incontinence

Some patients with paralysis have bowel and bladder incontinence. When the nerves that control urination and bowel movement are also affected, the patient will have incontinence. The challenge is making sure that they stay clean and dry at all times.

You can support your patient by helping them use incontinence pads and washing and patting dry their genital areas after every soiling.

4. Meal Preparation

If you are a caregiver for a patient in their home, you might also need to prepare meals for them. If the patient has no trouble swallowing or is not constipated, prepare and serve a balanced diet that consists largely of fruits and vegetables.

If the patient has difficulty swallowing due to paralysis from the neck down, prepare thick and mashed foods, and give thicker liquids. You may use commercial food and liquid thickeners. For patients with constipation problems, prepare fiber-rich options. Always follow diet recommendations.

5. Bed Sores Prevention

Immobility, poor circulation, and moist skin are the main factors that cause pressure sores to develop. Bony areas, such the hips, lower back, and shoulders, press against the skin for an extended period because the paralyzed part cannot move on its own.

If your patient’s incontinence pads are soaking their buttocks, this is a big factor for pressure sores, too. You might also be tempted to pull the patient when you move them in bed, but this is a big no-no because their skin rubs against the bedsheet. Loss of movement, limited blood flow, wet skin, and shearing forces are a perfect recipe for pressure sores.

Turn your patient every two hours and keep the skin (especially bony areas) clean and dry. Ensure proper nutrition and hydration and exercise the patient’s affected parts. These techniques are the best way prevent pressure sores.
6. Patient Exercise

Loss of movement causes muscles to weaken and lose their bulk. The skin also becomes prone to breakdown. So, the patient should exercise the body parts that can still move. The caregiver must also perform passive exercises on the patient (move the paralyzed body parts to improve circulation and prevent muscle loss).

7. Emotional Stress

Your patient is likely prone to emotional downturns, especially if they have difficulty adjusting to their situation. The pain of losing their passions and function to paralysis can be overwhelming to the patient.

The patient may project their anger and frustration onto you. This is a challenge to overcome. Do not take their hurtful words personally.
You may have your own struggle as well, seeing a formerly healthy person become a dependent patient. Whatever you do, be strong, genuinely kind, and compassionate.

Caregivers can expect significant challenges while caring for patients with paralysis. If you are a health aide or a family caregiver, caring for these patients is a constant worry but you can make it work (with the patient’s and the healthcare team's help). And if the challenges get to be too much, find ways to take a break for some needed rest!