ILLNESS can strike anyone at any point in life and family members and those who care about the person may find themselves catapulted into a caregiving role without any warning.
While different illnesses may come with varying degrees of challenges, the caregiver may experience numerous changes in their life, including helming new roles and responsibilities.
Metro Online Broadcast (mob.com.my) speaks to National Cancer Council Malaysia (Makna) outreach programme facilitator Habiba Abdul Rahman on useful general tips for family and friends to keep in mind when caring for their loved one.
1. Get comfortable
Habiba encourages caretakers to be in a comfortable position when spending time with an ill loved one. “Always sit down and remember to smile,” she said, adding that it is important for a caregiver to be comfortable so that he or she can serve them better. Habiba advises not to rush one’s visit as the patient may sense that you are rushing to go elsewhere and may not feel cared about.
2. Listen and focus on what the person is saying
“Sometimes when we are visiting the patient, many of us may not know what to do,” said Habiba, adding that the caregiver can let the patient break the silence. “It is important to let the patient talk about his desires, worries, his needs and what he wants or what he likes,” she said. Habiba advised caregivers to be fully present while spending time with the patient and not be busy doing other things, such as reading the newspaper.
Habiba believes that a human touch, such as a touch on the arm, can be beneficial to your loved one,
expressing affection and may also help the patient relax when they are ill. However, use sound judgment
when doing so, considering cultural factors or medical concerns pertaining to your loved one’s illness. “Touch only when the need arises,” says Habiba.
Music can be a form of therapy for some patients and she suggests playing some soothing music or
hymns, depending on what the patient prefers. Having faith and belief in their religion can also help.
“Remember that they have a lot of fear of the unknown,” said Habiba, adding that religion and spiritual
support can be helpful in providing some comfort to them.
5. Have patience
A caretaker can easily be overwhelmed by concerns of managing household chores, family finances and work, on top of caring for their loved one’s illness. While easier said than done, caretakers need to remember to be patient as one may never truly understand what the sick individual is facing. Additionally, a barrage of opinions and information can come from friends and family members who want to relay their opinions and knowledge from their own experiences. Remember to have patience in handling family members and friends as they are also concerned for their loved one.
6. Share responsibilities
Attending to the needs of an ill person can get physically and emotionally exhausting for the caregiver.
Caregivers should have time to recharge and attend to their own needs. Habiba explained that rotating the care-giving duties among family members can be beneficial, keeping caregivers from burning out.
Family members and friends should also talk to the caregiver to check how he or she is coping, as
the caregiver would need an outlet to express their own stress and concerns. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to those who offer their help.
7. Be kind, loving and gentle While it may seem obvious, being kind, loving and gentle to the patient is important as it can help them emotionally, in addition to showing one’s support for them. They may be in a scary place and uncertain about how their illness will affect their life — being treated lovingly and with kindness, can soothe them. According to Habiba, caretakers can try asking, “What would you like me to do for you?” and take the time to get to know the patient, allowing each to be more comfortable with
the other. understanding the patient’s needs can make things less stressful for both parties.
8. Consider obtaining the help of a counsellor Depending on the seriousness of your loved one’s illness, Habiba believes that obtaining the help of a counsellor can be beneficial for both the caretaker and patient. “Sometimes, the patient may have more faith in the counsellor (than their immediate family),” said Habiba, adding that some patients prefer talking to strangers. She adds that some non-governmental organisations offer these services for free.
9. Practice open communication According to Habiba, patients can sometimes take their family members for granted. Be patient and communicate with those around you to inform them of how their actions are making you feel. While many may have different views on the matter, Habiba believes that it is best that family members be transparent about the diagnosis, such as cancer. The stigma associated with such
an illness may sound like a death sentence but the patient needs to know so that he or she can adapt to
the situation and take their own initiatives to improve their personal health.
10. Join a support group For some diseases, the caretaker and patient can consider joining a support group to help with the coping process. For example, if a parent has been diagnosed with cancer, roles within the family may change, with the children becoming the primary caregiver while the parent may have to grow accustomed to having their child care for them. To cope with the challenges, speaking to others who have experienced the situation can help the caregiver become more efficient in their role while the support group can provide emotional help to the patient, as they may be with others who have experienced or are currently experiencing the same challenges as your loved one.
A special thanks to the National Cancer Council Malaysia (Makna) for providing the tips in the article.