The Goal of Caregiving: Creating a Better day

Caregiver helping senior woman with walker
Joselito Briones/Stocksy United

The Goal of Caregiving-Creating a Better Day

Considering all the things that can go wrong with our minds and bodies, I’m amazed how long we can live.  But when things start going wrong—very wrong—caregivers are often thrust into chaotic situations. When that occurs ask yourself, What is my purpose? What should be the caregiving goals for my loved one?

The Goal of Caregiving

I’ve found correctly identifying the goal of an activity often determines whether I will be successful or not.

Choosing impossible goals does little other than create disappointment for both the caregiver and the loved one for whom care is given. When my wife needed caregiving following a stroke, I thought my goal was to make her life as normal as it was before the stroke. As a retired speech-language pathologist I should have known better. It was an impossible goal.

When I was a bedside hospice volunteer I had the delusion I could save people. I based it on my past experience as someone who could “fix” or “solve” problems. I had been a speech-language pathologist who moved people back to “normal communications.” The notion I could fix or solve problems ended with the death of my first patient.

Choose Manageable Goals

At a workshop a hospice nurse said, “We can’t save anyone. Our purpose is to make each day they have left as pleasant and rewarding as possible. Every patient you have, every patient you love, will die.

That’s the premise of hospice. No matter how much you desire it, you can’t save anyone. If I thought I could, the depression I would experience over my twenty years as a hospice nurse would have drove me out of the field.”

When I understood and accepted her wisdom, my life as a hospice volunteer changed.

I think the same maxim applies to caregiving whether it’s short-term, long-range, for a resolvable health issue, a chronic illness or a terminal condition.

Instead of assuming the mantle of someone capable of changing a loved one’s physical condition, ask yourself the following question: What can I do today to make my loved one’s life better, more enjoyable, easier, etc.? Instead of striving to complete difficult or unachievable goals, focus on what’s manageable. You may not be able to bring a loved one back to normal health, but you can create conditions for him having a better day than yesterday. Don’t just make a ham and cheese sandwich, make the best ham and cheese sandwich your loved one ever ate.

An Exercise That Changes Caregiver’s Satisfaction

Here’s a simple exercise to try. List each of the individual things you did for your loved one yesterday (e.g., made breakfast, washed clothes, shopped for groceries, etc.). Imagine that you could do them over, making each one as satisfying as possible for your loved one without being a burden on you.

Start with just one; preferably the easiest to change. Do it tomorrow and notice the differences in your loved one’s attitude and behavior. Keep adding one additional activity each day until doing it “right” becomes natural.

Caregiving is one of the most difficult activities a human can do. Don’t make it harder than it already is by choosing impossible goals.

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