June 11, 2012

Motivating and Caring for the Disabled

Image credit: Tyashki
My mother is sick, and has been since before I was born. She's a type 1 diabetic, she has severe rheumatoid arthritis, suffers from PTSD and has recently been diagnosed with retinal neuropathy (she's going blind). When all of that is combined it means a really depressed, tired woman. I love my mom, completely and unendingly, but sometimes she can be frustrating. You see, while she is my mother, I'm her primary caregiver.

The bright side to this is I've learned some fantastic skills in dealing with and caring for disabled family members. In an effort to help other people who find themselves in a similar situation, here are some useful tips I've compiled over the past couple years. I hope they are of use to you.
  1. Take care of yourself. If you get too stressed, tired or grouchy it will make it impossible to do your job, let alone do it well. For me, this means regular sleep, time with my friends and lots of prayer.
  2. Talk to them (if this is possible) about what they need the most help with. Be gentle, loving and don't raise your voice. For example, my mom needs help with changing my little siblings' diapers and doing the dishes the most. I wouldn't have known this if we hadn't talked about it.
  3. Feed them a really, really good breakfast. Fresh fruit, whole grains and protein (yogurt, peanut butter, etc.) are the fundamentals of this meal. An awesome breakfast will help elevate their mood, relieve pain and stress, and energize them. This leads to a better day for them, and less work for you.
  4. Go outside. Sunlight has been proven to help people feel happier, and the fresh air will increase the amount of oxygen available to their body, which also helps them feel better. A better mood means less pain, less stress and will release them from the mental cage a house can become. If getting them outside isn't an option, set them by an open window to soak up the sunshine and fresh air that way.
  5. Try a schedule. This is especially important if they suffer from depression or bipolar, as studies have shown a regular schedule helps to stabilize mood. For my family, we try to keep meals, naptime and bedtime at the same times every day. This is doubly helpful because it helps the kids too.
  6. Open a window and turn on the radio. Good, uplifting music helps a person feel happy, and the fresh air helps them feel better too. When you're inside, turn the tv off and turn on some nice music.
  7. Make sure they get regular sleep. Lack of sleep causes hormone imbalances, weakens the immune system, and lowers mood. Regular, ample amounts of sleep help the body and the mind heal.
  8. Regularly communicate with their doctors about treatment options, better medications, dosage adjustments, and more. Avoid addictive medications and medications that the body can develop a tolerance to. When possible, try alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aroma therapy, massage and diet changes.
  9. Do your research. Your doctor won't tell you all the options, and your doctor might not even know about some options. My mom went through several doctors before she found someone who knew enough about type 1 not to put her into a coma. So do your own research. Educate yourself. The more prepared you are, the better.
  10. Keep a piece of paper handy with their current medications and dosages, diagnoses, birth date, insurance info, and allergies for abrupt trips to the emergency room and new doctors
  11. Get some exercise together. This is especially helpful with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Do something simple, like take a walk together. Exercise is easier and more fun when done together, and it will help both of you feel good.
  12. Make them some friends. My mom has a really hard time maintaining, or even gaining, friendships. However, with some concentrated effort to plan lunches with friends and playdates for the kids, she's able to maintain a fairly normal social life and this gives her a lot of joy. Just think how much you enjoy spending time with your friends.
  13. Declutter. Clutter can prove to be a hazard (toys on floor are easy to trip on, for example), visual clutter causes stress, and caring for and maintaining and cleaning up clutter takes up valuable time and is hard work. It will make your home safer for your loved one, easier to clean and maintain, and more relaxing to be in the less clutter there is.
  14. Help establish a morning routine. Getting in clean clothes, taking a shower and brushing the teeth help a person feel clean and refreshed. My mom always has a better day when it starts like this.
  15. Find out what makes them happy, and encourage it. My mom likes lilacs and writing, so we've planted a few lilacs, set up a space for her to write, and I make time for her to do the things that make her happy.
Obviously, depending on you and your loved ones' situation, not all of this will be helpful. These are meant to be suggestions, not rules, and of course talk to your doctor if you have any doubts about any of these. 
Do you care for someone with a disabilities? What helps you do your job well?

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