Saturday, May 23, 2009

Caregiver Injuries....

It's a beautiful Spring Saturday morning - sunny, clear and bright with the scent of lilacs, azaleas and rhododendrons wafting in on the cool air from the garden. I'm sipping a mug of my favourite Dutch coffee and savouring the pre-lawnmower quiet.

I haven't posted here for the past week because a "caregiving injury" has severely restricted the use of my right hand. I am cat-sitting for a few weeks and the poor old thing has renal failure which necessitates frequent feedings and the administration of a small pill every morning. 

During one of our pill-encounters, Si nipped my finger, leaving an all but invisible puncture wound. By six o'clock that evening, my finger (and the rest of my hand) was hot, red, swollen and exquisitely tender and off I went to the clinic for antibiotics and a tetanus shot.  The young doctor there informed me that about 80% of cat bites become infected, some very quickly and seriously. If my infection increased at all I was to go to the emergency department for IV antibiotics. (!) Fortunately, the oral medications have worked well and I'm able to type quite comfortably this morning.

All this did make me think, though, about how often caregivers are injured while doing simple, everyday caregiving tasks - sometimes because we're tired, sometimes because we're preoccupied  and sometimes because we lack information about what we're doing.

While caring for my husband during his bed-bound years, I spent much more time than usual on my feet at home. Like many people, I tended to kick off my shoes at the front door and go barefoot or push my feet into a pair of comfortable old slippers. Little did I know that spending hours on my feet in poorly supporting foot wear would result in a case of bilateral plantar fasciitis that took two years and hundreds of dollars (orthotics) to heal! So, here's a piece of advice that you probably won't find in any other writings for caregivers - Be sure to wear well-fitting and supportive shoes whenever engaged in caregiving that requires extra time on your feet. It's well worth the effort!

Also worth the effort, whether you're a helping professional or a family carepartner, is taking the time to assess the things you do regularly while caring for others. 

- Do you  make an effort to stay in the moment, present to the task at hand, or are you already three steps ahead, planning for something else entirely? 

- Are you practicing good self care so that your body is fit and well rested for the tasks you have to undertake?

- Are you asking for help when you need it? (It can be annoying to wait for someone to help you lift a wheelchair into the trunk of the car, but not nearly as annoying as being laid up for six weeks with a back injury!).

- Is your work area set up for good ergonomic functioning? 

- Do you know how to do caregiving tasks correctly - good body mechanics, proper care of needles and other sharps, correct procedures for handling aggressive behaviour? Again, asking for information can save injury both to yourself and to your care recipients.

So, if we all do our best to remain mindful, fit and rested, and informed in our caregiving, we are far less likely to become numbered among the "cared for". Is there one thing you could change this week to make your caregiving safer for you


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's Up....?

May has been a busy month and I have just finished the last of the workshops scheduled for the Spring. As always, I have been deeply moved by the response of family caregivers and helping professionals to information about Compassion Fatigue and Chronic Sorrow. Heads nod and eyes tear as people come to understand that their distressing symptoms are normal responses to trauma and loss.

My plans for the summer include some vacation time on Vancouver Island and in Oregon state and also a lot of writing. In the pipeline are articles for the Well Spouse Foundation and the Victoria Caregivers Network Society and I will be starting an ebook on Chronic Sorrow for family caregivers and the helping professionals who support them. In order to have a base from which to distribute the ebook, there will also be a website to design.  And the weekly blog posts will continue for the weeks that I'm in town. Fortunately, I'm, one of those people who still writes with pencil and paper (!) so I can go pretty well anywhere from mountaintop to sea shore to do my writing and I expect to do both.

The first fall workshop bookings are coming in now so, if there is a particular date that would work best for your organization, please feel free to contact me to hold it for you.


Monday, May 4, 2009

BC Family Caregivers Week - May 9 - 13...

This week is Family Caregivers Week in BC and I am fortunate to be taking part in the Caregivers Program for the Family Caregivers' Network Society in Victoria on Friday and in the annual Caregivers Association of BC Caregivers Fair at Robson Square in Vancouver on Saturday.  It is always a privilege to speak to family caregivers and, in turn, to learn from their stories and experiences. I'm really looking forward to the weekend.

I think that Caregivers Week is a good time to remember that family caregiving is not just confined to middle aged women caring for aging parents, though that is certainly a large and growing segment of the caregiving population. We tend to forget that there are millions of young adults and children who are providing part time or full time care to grandparents, parents, siblings and, in some cases, to their own children. 

While countries like England have focused on the needs of "young carers" for several years, we in North America have been slower to acknowledge their important contribution to the stability of families coping with chronic and serious acute illnesses and injuries. These young people have all the needs of older carepartners plus the added needs of their own developmental stages.

As Carol Levine, director of the Families and Healthcare Project at United Hospital Fund and lead author on a study of young adult caregivers, said in 2005 - 

To provide any kind of meaningful assistance to young adult caregivers, who are
at a critical stage in their life and development, we need to carefully consider the
impact of their responsibilities on employment, education and social life. Services
developed for older women are not going to be appropriate for younger men and

She goes on to say that -

The young adults who are caregivers now are, we suggest, only the first wave
of the future. With social changes such as delayed childbearing and smaller
families, aging parents will have to look for help to children still in their 
formative years. The...grandparents currently raising one or more grandchildren
will need help when these children are in their twenties. We speculate that, in the
future , care recipients will be even older than they are now and caregivers will be 
even younger. What this may mean for a youth-oriented but aging society is a 
crucial, but an open, question.

As we move ahead in acknowledging and creating programs to support older adult carepartners, let us not forget the needs of this younger and at least equally vulnerable group.