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Building Calm, Positive Caregiving Experiences

As a caregiver, you have to struggle with all kinds of frustrations. It may be from the dramatic change in your care partner’s personality. Or, from the pressure of trying to get through all your daily responsibilities. It could be from worry over the risk of an injury working with your care partner. Or, the frustrations from unexpected demands, such as picky eating or bowel and bladder accidents.

But when you dwell on frustration, the negative thoughts can make daily tasks more challenging. It’s not unusual to experience tension. And tension could put you into a negative state even before there’s real difficulty. Tension between you and your care partner can increase the risk of an injury. Increasing calm interactions between you and your care partner can reduce frustration during transfers, hygiene chores and other challenging daily tasks.

If your care partner has difficulties with moods, working to make the mood more calm can be especially helpful in reducing unexpected episodes of upset or agitation. Being calm and connected can help reduce the risk of another source of injury — physical combativeness.

Remaining calm and connected to your care partner while still managing the changes life has dealt you both isn’t always easy. Sometimes activities you enjoyed in your former life aren’t feasible, and too much time is spent watching TV and managing daily living basics. Listed below are some options that allow you to relate to your care partner and provide pleasure for you both:

1. Music creates a mood.

Choose music you both enjoy. Play music that’s calming to reduce agitation, or upbeat to promote participation. You could use a favorite radio station or Internet site. Some people load favorite music onto an MP3 player or cell phone, add speakers, and then listen with their care partner. If your care partner has memory issues, music can be organizing — and it can enhance mood and increase participation in daily activities. Just a note: Not everyone likes calming music. If your care partner likes Gilbert and Sullivan, marches or jazz, it’s fine to play what they like.

2. Enjoy nature.

Observing nature doesn’t require memory or physical ability. Taking your care partner for a wheelchair walk in the park is an opportunity to be outside and notice nature. It’s both stimulating and calming for many. Similarly, there are botanic gardens and greenhouses you can visit. Focus on natural beauty; many find it calming. Even a care partner with limited memory can participate and enjoy the experience in the moment. If you’re confined indoors, the action around a bird feeder viewed through a window can offer simple entertainment. Sitting and watching the birds with your care partner for even 10 minutes can be a source of stimulation and calm. It might even bring joy.

3. Shared activities.

Games offer an opportunity to relate. If your care partner was a game player in the past, those are the best games. If games of the past, such as bridge, are too hard, try simple games such as Go Fish or Parcheesi. Consider your care partner’s abilities and interests in choosing games. The current trend toward adult coloring books is another option for an activity you might be able to do together.

4. Laugh together.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the required activities or the frustrations of the day. Make some time to laugh. Maybe you have funny memories you share. Maybe you can read each other jokes from an online source. Sometimes you can just laugh about everyday things. Humor is a wonderful outlet for frustration. Many argue that laughter is good medicine.

If the suggestions offered here don’t fit your situation, use them as a starting place to do your own brainstorming. Changing the atmosphere may be a work in progress rather than a simple fix.

Kate Lorig, DrPH, is a partner in the Self-Management Resource Center (SMRC). As director of the Stanford Patient Education Research Center, she was a co-developer of the Building Better Caregiver Program. For 20 years, Kate watched her mother care for her father, who was severely disabled by a stroke. She co-author of Building Better Caregivers: A Family Caregiver’s Guide to Reducing Stress and Staying Healthy (Bull Publishing, June 20, 2018). Learn more at selfmanagementresource.com.

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Written by Kate Lorig, DrPH

Kate Lorig, DrPH, is a partner in the Self-Management Resource Center (SMRC). As director of the Stanford Patient Education Research Center, she was a co-developer of the Building Better Caregiver Program. For 20 years, Kate watched her mother care for her father, who was severely disabled by a stroke. She co-authored Building Better Caregivers: A Family Caregiver's Guide to Reducing Stress and Staying Healthy 

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