One of the most challenging aspects of living with arthritis is accepting that you can’t always do it all or do it alone. Getting effective support from your friends, family, neighbours and loved ones (aka: your care team) can make all the difference in your journey with arthritis.
Here are tips and strategies to ensure a successful caregiving partnership.
1. Educate yourself
Most people know little about arthritis and underestimate the severity of its symptoms. Understanding your disease is the first step to empowering yourself in your treatment journey and being able to educate others, including those who care for you. The Arthritis Society offers many helpful online learning resources.
2. Be honest about your needs
Since many symptoms of arthritis are invisible, those around you can't always see what you're going through. Clearly communicating your symptoms and limitations is a key step in ensuring you receive the support you need. There are many types of support to offer a family member or friend who is experiencing chronic or persistent pain.
3. Accept help
Caregiving can take many forms: running errands, preparing meals, helping with the kids, driving to appointments, spending quality time, or taking care of household chores. When someone asks, “how can I help?”, take them up on their offer.
4. Get organized
Keep a calendar of important appointments and don’t hesitate to “schedule” a companion in advance. Prepare a binder (a family member or a friend can help) that includes a list of all your medications and supplements, treatments, reference documents like medical coverage and test results, questions for your medical provider and important notes. This Healthcare Appointment Checklist can help.
5. Build a community of care
Do not wait to be overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt-out to start asking for help. Build a strong network of people that you can rely on to help you. This can include friends, family members, neighbours and people from communities you are a part of, including religious communities.
6. Show your appreciation
There are many ways to say “thank you,” and small thoughtful gestures can be remarkably effective in making the person who cares for you feel special and appreciated. Try stocking up on your caregiver’s favourite tea or beverage, baking cookies “just because” or offering a small gift aligned with their interests.
7. Make time for self-care
Factors such as stress can affect how we experience arthritis pain. Keep your self-care in mind – taking steps to improve your diet and moving your body will help you feel your best, and when you feel your best, you can be a better friend, wife, husband and care-partner. Here are some tips for self-care.
8. Create healthy boundaries
Laying out and defining the rules and expectations in your care-partner roles will make things easier, especially if your caregiver is also a spouse or family member. A sustainable care partnership takes into consideration personal obligations, work-life balance, comfort levels and privacy. Having someone you and your caregiver can ask for advice and who can offer wisdom, another perspective and common sense can be helpful in resolving conflicts that might arise.
9. Watch out for burnout
The challenges and complexities of being a caregiver, including being so focused on your loved one that you don't realize that your own health and well-being are suffering, can lead to physical and emotional stress. Here are common signs of caregiving burnout and how to prevent it.
These tips for a successful caregiving partnership are based in part on information shared in the Arthritis Talks webinar, Strategies for Caregivers. In this webinar, Tanya Burley from Caregivers Alberta, and experienced caregiver, Dave Barker, share their insights on how to best support someone living with arthritis.