Look at the headlines and you will quickly see that the word “caregiver” is associated with a lot of negative words…burden…stress…crisis…burnout…exhausted. Caregivers play a vital role whether they are assisting with ADLs or IDALs, communicating and advocating with health care providers, providing some nursing care, or just staying current with health needs and management. So take time to mindfully build a strong relationship with the caregiver in your patient’s life.
Make Caregivers Part of the Team
As Occupational Therapy professionals, we can intentionally build a strong partnership with caregivers to maximize patient independence and well-being. Include caregivers in assessments and appointments; build rapport with the person who is central to the patient’s daily life, and approach the care as a team. Written materials and handouts will help the caregiver reinforce your patient’s goals between therapy sessions.
Teach the “Why” and “How” of Modifications and Adaptations
Instruct both patients and caregivers on all modifications and adaptations that you recommend. Patients may not have the capacity to even make the simplest modifications, like removing throw rugs to reduce the risk of falls, so caregivers are the key to carrying out the work. The use of adaptive equipment to increase mobility and independence benefits the patient and the caregiver, many times in equal measure, so the caregiver needs to understand the purpose and proper use of equipment as much as the patient does.
Provide Motivational Tools
The caregiver is the one that will be with the patient day in and day out and should be given the tools to motivate and encourage the patient to live the most independent and fulfilling life possible. When the caregiver understands and supports the short and long term goals of therapy, they can be the cheerleader at home to make sure the daily steps are taken to reach the goal. They are also in a great position to monitor and chart daily progress not only to report to the health care team but to motivate the patient.
Help Manage the Daily Details
Managing appointments, medications and lifestyle is many times up to the caregivers. Acute conditions in particular can leave the family in need of tools to manage the new reality. Occupational Therapists can provide strategies to manage medications and appointments, share the latest information on the condition or disease, and encourage positive lifestyle changes that the patient can implement with assistance from their caregiver.
Promote Self Care
Without the help and support of informal caregivers, many patients would be in crisis. Yet, each of us have only so much to give and that includes even the most dedicated of caregivers. To help, make sure your patient’s caregiver is well connected to the resources available like case management services, respite care, in home care, support groups or financial assistance.
Team building, explaining why, providing tools to manage and motivate, and promoting self-care all will help your caregivers. Ultimately, care for the caregiver will mean better care for your patient and better outcomes. Even caregivers need a little OT!
Cheryl Hall, OT
Author and Illustrator, Occupational Therapy Toolkit