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Sunday, March 30, 2008

New to Caregiving? Not Sure How to Help? Here Are 10 Tips

Here is the scenario. An acquaintance or friend has had a sudden illness or accident. You want to help, but feel there is nothing you can do, and you don't know what to say either. You are tempted to rationalize to yourself that the person probably does not need anything. Below are 10 tips.

1. Acknowledge the situation, instead of offering false reassurances. Instead of "Oh, you'll be fine" or "Everything will be OK" try saying something more like "I can tell this is a difficult time, and you'll be in my thoughts and prayers." People know that everything doesn't always turn out fine, and sometimes things are not "OK." Miracles do occur, but if the situation is very serious then "don't worry" does not apply.

2. Avoid a gushy, artificially cheerful demeanor, because it will convince the other person that you don't "get it." Instead of "Hey there ! Keep smiling! You'll be OK, just think positive!" you might say "I'm glad we can share some time together today, I've missed you."

3. Don't just say "Is there anything I can do?" because it puts the ill or injured person in the embarrassing position of asking for help. Try something like "I'd like to stop and visit for awhile tomorrow. I always enjoy your company and maybe we can watch a video or...While I'm there can I help out with...."

4. DO say something like "I'm going to be passing by your house today on my way to the grocery store. While I'm doing my own grocery shopping can I pick up some things that you might need and drop them off at your place on my way back?" This way the person will not feel he or she is putting you out.

5. Don't use trite sayings or platitudes such as "Things will get better" or "Chin up." People may feel you don't grasp the situation, or feel these trite sayings are belittling the situation.

6. Ask probing questions about the situation and listen. Ask questions to clarify the situation. Then when you say "I understand" the person will know that someone cared enough to try to grasp the situation. There will be a connection. Someone "gets it."

7. Offer specific assistance in a concrete way, such as "I'm on my way to refill my bottles with purified water. Is it OK if I stop by and pick up your empty water bottles too, then we can have a visit when I drop them off?" This way the person will feel you are not just doing a favor but interested in seeing the person for a visit.

8. Share a similar experience, such as "When I broke my ankle I had a difficult time cleaning my house, so my sister helped out, and I wondered if I could give you a hand with yours while you are recuperating?"

9. Share time with the person, to show the person that he or she is valued. "Can we have lunch together tomorrow so we can spend some time catching up?" might be one way to do this. Illness and injury cause people to become isolated because they cannot participate in their usual activities.

10. Remember that the psychological effects of being ill or injured are as important as the physical effects. The physical and emotional effects are intertwined. Try to see the whole person and the whole situation. Research shows that people avoid people who is ill or injured, and in their presence do things to create distance, such as avoiding eye contact, avoiding touching or hugging, and keeping psychologically distant. Some people "run away" when friends or family are ill or injured. In my nursing classes we were taught to be sure to give the ill or injured person our "eyes - and eye contact, our touch, our listening, our voice, our physical presence." Being there with someone is very different from just being on the telephone. It has a different effect, and can be more comforting and more psychologically healing, which can help physical healing too.

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