Chronic pain carers

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26 March 2019

Elderly couple

Is there someone in your life dealing with pain daily? That’s tough on them, but it can also be tough on those around them. Here are some ways to make sure that you’re caring for yourself while looking after them. 

It’s estimated that one in three Australians live with chronic pain, which is defined by the Australian Pain Management Association (APMA) as pain that “persists beyond the normal healing time of about three months”. This obviously affects the sufferer, but it can have significant flow-on effects to those who become their caregivers - about 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia, according to a 2015 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey.

While it can be indescribable to see a loved one battling pain every day, if carers don’t look after themselves it can make the situation worse. “You need to look after yourself because if you become depressed, that’s another burden for the person you’re caring for,” says Charlie Curnow, who’s a carer for his partner. With so much responsibility, carers need to be careful with their own health. “Caregivers are often the advocate for their loved ones with chronic pain,” says Dr C. David Lin, Medical Doctor of Physical Medicine and Pain Medicine and a member of the global network of Best Doctors specialists. “This involvement in the care and treatment of a loved one can take its toll emotionally on even the most patient caregiver,” says Dr Lin.

This leads to the importance of carers having coping strategies for getting through both difficult times and day-to-day caring. To help, Dr Lin offers the following ‘dos’ and don’ts’.

Do:

Take care of yourself. You’re not much without your health. APMA suggests having regular medical check-ups to stay on top of your health - looking after yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

Stay positive. “Patients with chronic pain are often frustrated and can take out their anger on the people closest to them,” says Dr Lin. Practising self-appreciation may help to keep things in perspective, which can also be helpful to the person you’re caring for. APMA suggests engaging in activities together, no matter how small, which can distract from the pain.

Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that there are many physical and mental health benefits of being active. The Australian Government’s Department of Health physical activity guidelines are to do 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise a week and 75-150 minutes per week of intense activity.

Make time for yourself by doing something special. “Find time for yourself and make sure you have a life outside of caregiving,” says Dr Lin. APMA recommends doing activities you enjoy and that you find interesting and/or relaxing.  

Don't:

Attempt to be the ‘Super Caregiver’. “It’s never healthy to try to do it alone,” says Dr Lin. Whether it’s with friends or other carers, be open and talk about your situation. “Sharing your experiences with others about this challenging, and sometimes unexpected, role can help you feel more comfortable as a caregiver,” says Dr Lin.

Be reluctant to share your difficulties with the person you’re caring for. “Caregiving is a team sport and will require positive feedback and open communication,” explains Dr Lin. “Chronic pain doesn’t just happen to one family member, it happens to the whole family,” he adds.

Become isolated. Make time for social activities, for both yourself alone and with the loved one you’re caring for. Some friends and family members may not know how to help, so be honest with them about the kinds of activities your loved one in pain can endure so you’re both involved in enjoyable events.

Give up. There’ll likely be testing times that might make you want to walk away, so make sure you have the right support on hand. If you don’t have a network, speak to your doctor or go to Carers Australia for advice.

About Best Doctors

With an eligible policy from MLC Life Insurance, you and certain of your family members can access Best Doctors – a service which connects you with a network of more than 50,000 leading medical specialists from Australia and around the world for a second medical opinion when you need it most, helping to ensure you have the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Learn more about Best Doctors.

References

  1. https://www.painmanagement.org.au/2014-09-11-13-34-03/what-is-chronic-pain.html
  2. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4430.0
  3. https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/F01F92328EDADA5BCA257BF0001E720D/$File/FS-Adults-18-64-Years.pdf
  4. http://www.carersaustralia.com.au

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