Roles and Responsibilities
As a caregiver, you may be tempted to try to do everything for your loved one. And depending on the condition of their health, you may find yourself having to do many of the things they used to do for themselves, such as shuttling them to appointments or helping them with personal grooming.
Even if someone is greatly dependent upon you for their care, you will find that you are better able to maintain your own mental health and will reinforce the dignity of the one for whom you are caring if your roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
Your Role as Caregiver
If you are the primary caregiver or even if, for now, you have been given the responsibility of being your loved one's health care agent only when they are incapacitated, the key to clarifying your role as caregiver is communication. Talk to your loved one about their needs and wants and be sure to make yours clear as well. Be sure to discuss not only what is necessary for today, but also for the future. As time progresses, you may find yourself in charge of not only your loved one's health but their home, legal, and financial affairs. Make sure you know not only what your boundaries are but to whom to refer for other important decisions when the time comes.
As the caregiver, you may find yourself handling a variety of things such as:
• Dispensing medications
• Blood glucose testing
• Helping at medical appointments
• Grocery shopping
• Personal care
• Learning healthcare information alongside your loved one
• Communicating with doctors and other health care professionals
If you are the adult child caring for a parent, you may quickly find yourself feeling like the roles have reversed. But part of your role as a caregiver, especially if it is child to parent, is to make things as easy as you can for both of you. Help them to help themselves and maintain their routine, and dignity, as much as possible. This may mean, for instance, buying equipment that will enable them to bathe themselves or serving their meals at times they prefer, even if it is different from your preference. One of the most important things you provide to the one you take care of is emotional support. A listening ear can work wonders for their morale.
Helping your loved one may also mean learning about the variety of services available in their community and availing yourself of them whenever possible. These services may include:
• In-home aides
• Meal delivery
• Telephone check-ins
• Financial assistance
Consider checking with your state and local government for programs that can be beneficial. Also contact community groups, social service agencies, church groups and other non-profit organizations in your area. The more you can take advantage of these services, the better it can be for you both – they maintain some autonomy, you maintain your mental health.
Caring for Yourself
Part of your responsibility as the caregiver is to know your limits. Do not take on more than you know you can handle emotionally, physically, financially, or otherwise. It will not help your loved one for you to feel burdened with their care because in time they will become affected by those feelings.
If you have a family of your own that you must provide for, realize that taking on your loved one's responsibilities – financial and otherwise - could prove overwhelming and put stress on your family as well as yourself. Consider what you can and cannot handle as early as possible and look for ways to deal with the things you cannot handle. Talk to family members, your religious organization, members of your loved ones' health care team, and/or organizations that specialize in the areas you require assistance in. If you work, your responsibility also extends to your employer, so find out what your job provides in terms of leave or inquire about flexible hours.
The Role of Doctors and Other Professionals
Doctors and other health care professionals know best what your loved one needs medically. If they have a CDE, you can get their assistance with any nutritional needs. However, the one who knows their diabetes best is the person with diabetes. If they are still able to maintain their diabetes, it is up to them to seek help when they know something is wrong and follow their doctors' advice to the best of their ability. If they require your assistance, then the more in tune you are to their diabetes needs, the better it is for their diabetes management. Take concerns to their doctor when they arise. However, know that there is always a choice. You may sometimes need to discuss getting a second, or even a third, opinion.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that can yield all sorts of complications as time passes. There are many resources available and there are people who are ready and willing to help you as you help your loved one. When possible, let your loved one take the lead in their diabetes management but don't be afraid to ask for the help you need.
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Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...