Caring for a loved one with a serious illness can be exhausting and challenging - and may be one of the most rewarding things you'll ever do. You might not know what to expect, or just what to do, but you should be aware that there is help available to you. As you determine a caregiving plan, take advantage of this help and consider the following:
- Learn about your loved one's illness. Knowing about the disease itself, as well as your loved one's prognosis, can help you anticipate your loved one's needs and make you feel more capable and in control. Have the name and contact information of your loved one's doctors and healthcare team handy so you can call when you have questions. Access Resources for links to a number of websites providing information on specific diseases.
- Focus on your relationship with your loved one. You'll have a lot of time together, so make it quality time as much as possible. Do activities you enjoy together, if you can. Stay rooted in the here and now as much as possible. Take one day at a time. Tell stories, talk about hopes and dreams.
- Talk to your employer about your situation. Some companies offer reduced hours or flexible schedules, or you may wish to take a temporary leave. If you qualify, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and retain your job. Learn more by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor's information pages on FMLA.
You can find more care-giving advice and support, including information about physical care, making the home safe for your loved one and various resources on the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization's patient website, Caring Connections, through the Family Caregiver Alliance and through the American Hospice Foundation. You may also want to visit Caring Bridge, sites created to connect family and friends of patients dealing with a serious illness.