Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Living with someone who's chronically ill

Nowadays, with longer life expectancy, chances are greater than ever that you will need to help in caring for someone who's chronically ill. Remember that chronic illness affects whole families as well as the patient, especially if the illness is terminal. Family members may find themselves in unfamiliar or undesired roles, and providing 24-hour nursing care can prove to be a major burden. They can become isolated from social networks as they struggle to care for a sick loved one. Stress can break down close relationships, and a patient's inability to take care of himself often causes guilt, shame or irritation. Indian society expects the spouse and children of the chronically ill to always be patient, kind, supportive and understanding - a tall order indeed! Interestingly, researchers have found that a spouse's attitude affects the suffering of someone with a chronic illness. When the spouse is supportive, it is easier for the sufferer to be positive and optimistic. By contrast, those with critical spouses are more likely to feel hopelessly victimized by their illness. A families' efforts to downplay the severity of an illness is likely to make the sick member worse, whereas openness, acceptance, and compassion have a positive effect. Here are some aspects on which you can focus as a caregiver to help make your role more manageable:
  • Accept the reality that the chronic illness may not go away.
  • Focus on the signs of well-being - such as activities and the person's feelings rather than on just physical health.
  • Be readily available and listen, emphasizing positive changes. IGet involved together in productive, fun-filled activities to distract the patient from the illness.
  • Encourage independence while maintaining as "normal" a family life as possible.
  • Take care of yourself, and seek help when needed. Look for organizations that offer support for caregivers.

If you are a victim of a chronic illness, there's no denying the fact that it affects your life adversely. But how much you allow it to determine the quality of your life depends, to some extent, on the way you choose to live one day to the next. It's true that a chronic illness does not 'go away', but you can learn to cope with it and lead satisfying and a happy life!

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