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Image from 'Baby Blues' comic strip by Rick Kirkman

Tips for Caregivers

By Nima Salari, MD

When caring for a patient with neck or back pain, the caretaker faces emotional and at times physical challenges. It is difficult to watch a loved one experience pain symptoms. Many times being unsure of how to provide help can generate further anxiety about the situation. Know that as a caregiver you are not alone. In fact, statistically a broad majority of long term care for patients in the United States is provided by their family members. Know that you are appreciated and here are some tips to perhaps make the journey a bit lighter.

Understand the Condition Better

Knowledge about the underlying condition causing the pain symptoms goes a long way toward building confidence when you are in a caregiver role. Similarly, understanding the methods prescribed to treat those symptoms can aide in better caregiving. Try to attend the visits with the health provider and help formulate a list of questions to ask.

I caution you to rely too heavily on “Dr. Google”, but it may be a good idea to look up the meaning of the diagnoses made and read several other sources on the same topic.

Finally, ask the pharmacist about the best sequence of utilizing the medications, the potential side effects, interactions and alternatives.

Journal the Journey

It is helpful to document the details of the recovery including what triggers and otherwise alleviates symptoms. If the individual you are caring for has received treatments such as epidural steroid injections, it is helpful to keep track of how much and how long relief is rendered, along with what areas are affected. Keep a record of prior interventions and surgeries as well. This type of information can help the practitioner provide further guidance but also help the patient and yourself with a general sense of what is working and what is not.

Eat Well and Stay Fit

We often prescribe exercise as a means to treat and preferably prevent symptoms of neck and back pain. In a separate post I discuss exercise in some further detail but also share ideas on a healthier and more balanced diet along with tips for better sleep and getting enough rest. Consider starting an exercise program together even when done at home and keep each other accountable. It may lead to more consistency, easier to reach laid out goals and a feeling that you are in this together.

Actively Listen

If marriage has taught me anything, it is that active listening makes all the difference. The technique is straight forward but takes time to practice and hone. Pay attention to what is being said and engage in eye contact. Withhold judgement while you reflect and ask questions. Visualize what is being said and try your best to summarize back. In return, that person will hopefully feel heard and understood. It can help with their level of anxiety and even pain and they feel more comfortable asking for further help.

Avoid Burnout

Try to have a support group of your own. Schedule breaks and meet up with friends and family. Find time to do the things you enjoy. Your lives have changed and it is normal to let yourself feel the emotions as you process them. Try not to be overly self-critical and realize that you are carrying a major responsibility. Remind yourself that you are doing a good job and try to focus on the present and find joy in small things. Celebrate every small victory like a drop in medication needs or any other form of measurable progress.

With these simple yet practical tips, hopefully your journey of caregiving for your loved one will be a rewarding experience for you both.

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