Being a caregiver is a difficult job, even if you are a trained professional. The person you are caring for depends on you and your skills for their health and safety, not to mention emotional support. Yet, you may be paying so much attention to your job as a caregiver that you ignore your own health and well-being.
Family caregivers have a more challenging job as they typically lack the training, and since they are caring for family, they ignore their physical and mental health.
Illness and injury can result in pain, added stress, and lost income for caregivers, so it's vital to adopt some critical preventative strategies to keep you safe at work. While these ideas are geared for professional long-term care caregivers, family caregivers can use these same ideas to keep themselves safe while caring for a loved one.
It could be the slightest of movements - while helping a care recipient to transfer from their bed or get up from a chair, you feel a shooting pain in your leg or back, and the next day you can barely move. Or perhaps, when working with a dementia patient who is confused and anxious, you start to feel yourself buckle inside with mental fatigue and stress. Maybe your care recipient is unwell with a contagious virus, and you catch it - leaving you sick and missing days of work.
If you sustain a work-related injury or illness, be sure to explore your options regarding workers' compensation and retain a worker's compensation lawyer when necessary.
You must make it a priority to care for yourself so you can care for others.
Whatever the circumstances of a work-related injury or illness, the results are stressful. Providing in-home health care or care for a person in a long-term care facility is physically demanding. Even if the care recipient is a patient and not a family member, you often develop a close bond with those you care for. This bond means the job can become emotionally demanding as well. You put 100% effort into the job, and that can result in injury.
While it can never be 100% guaranteed that you will not experience any difficulties associated with your job as a caregiver, there are things you can do to minimize your risks.
Safety Focus for Caregivers
The safety and well-being of caregivers fall into three main categories. These are:
- Infection prevention
- Safe movement and body mechanics
Colds, flu, or other viruses can lead to lost workdays, and this has always been the case long before COVID-19 came along and drastically complicated everything further.
However, with or without the additional threat of COVID-19, the best way to deal with infection and sickness is to minimize risk.
Minimizing risk means that thorough hand washing needs to be a priority part of your hygiene and care routine. Additionally, hand sanitizer should always be on hand and used when it is impractical to use antibacterial soap and water.
Thoroughly washing your hands involves scrubbing between your fingers, as well as around and under your nails. It is also highly recommended always to use gloves when undertaking hygiene and cleaning care, especially when dealing with any bodily fluids.
Lastly, if you are ill, you must stay home to prevent the spread of illness. If your client is the one sneezing, coughing, or sniffling, wear a mask at all times.
These rules also apply to family caregivers. Just because the care recipient is a loved one doesn't mean you ignore common sense hygiene and safety measures.
When a family caregiver is ill, you should seek respite care options with either in-home professional caregivers or adult day care options.
Proper Body Mechanics
The use of proper body mechanics will help the caregiver avoid injuries and muscle fatigue that many caregivers face in their job. Professional caregivers have been trained on lifting and moving care recipients to prevent injury to both the caregiver and the care recipient.
Family caregivers should be especially careful as they are often untrained and unprepared for the role of being a caregiver. Caregiving training classes are available and should be considered before taking on the job of a caregiver. However, many professional and adequately trained caregivers forget the basics and find themselves hurting because they forget the basics.
These guidelines for proper body mechanics will help keep you safe and healthy:
- Keep your body aligned. Be sure to maintain your back, neck, pelvis, and feet aligned as you turn or move. Be careful not to twist or bend at your waist.
- Body Support. It is vital to keep your feet apart to create a body framework of support. Spreading your feet helps maintain your balance.
- Use Hips and Knees. When bending, do not bend your waist; instead, bend at your hips and knees. Don't lift with your back or waist; use your legs. You will be better able to maintain your balance by dividing your weight evenly between your upper and lower body. Also, be sure to take small steps to avoid twisting.
Is the person or item you are lifting or moving too heavy? Will it be awkward to hold? Is the angle of your client troublesome to the movement planned? Asking such questions can prevent you from making an error and cause you to find a safer alternative.
Remember, when lifting, always keep your back straight, head up, and shoulders back whenever lifting anything. Always begin in a squatting position for larger or heavier items and, if it is safe to do so, have the care recipient assist you.
Be sure to face the object or person you are lifting and use both hands and arms when you lift.
Ensure that your directions are always clearly communicated and understood. For example, before transferring a client or loved one from a shower chair or bed, explain the steps you will be taking, including directions that are easy to follow, such as stating that you will move the count of three.
Also, always utilize any devices or tools to assist you, such as grab bars, a raised toilet seat, or an adjustable bed. These are in place not only to assist the care recipient but to make your job easier and safer, too.
Your physical safety is not the only concern that you must consider as a caregiver. Those working in the field of caregiving must take the time to take care of their own emotional needs and stay on top of their stress. Family caregivers often fail to consider their own health and well-being. They often have little time to care for themselves between their jobs, family, and caregiving role.
Stress is an inevitable part of the job, but if ill-managed, it can take a considerable toll on your immune system and overall mental wellness. Many resources are available to help you. Many care organizations offer assistance with self-care strategies, such as gratitude practice, mindfulness, and diaphragmatic breathing. It can also be effective to utilize creative approaches such as art therapy and vision board creation.
If you find yourself overwhelmed or struggling, you must speak out and seek support.
Depression and anxiety are concerns for both the professional caregiver and the family caregiver. Professional caregivers often become personally connected to the care recipient and their families. Seeing a person decline due to a health problem or aging can often become emotionally overwhelming.
Family caregivers have an added level of anxiety become of the family connection. Seeing a parent decline is never easy, but if a loved one also must be a caregiver, the experience can become emotionally demanding.
Never ignore the depression or anxiety you may experience as you provide care. Seek appropriate medical attention when necessary.
When your job is to care for others, it can be all too easy to neglect your personal safety and needs. However, the only way to consistently provide the quality of care that you pride yourself upon is by prioritizing your own care.
So, be thorough and meticulous, stop and think before you act, and regularly check in with your own feelings to ensure that you are doing all you can to stay on top of your own stresses.
If you, as a caregiver, are not well, your care recipient may not receive the quality care they need and deserve.
Family Caregivers Need Respite
Loved ones who must provide care for a parent find themselves juggling many roles, caregiver, parent, spouse, and an employer for your regular job.
You should seek help from other family members; however, that is often unrealistic. You will need a break to maintain your physical and emotional health. Finding professional respite care is essential.
Many home health agencies will provide respite care services. Plus, adult day care centers also can be beneficial to provide quality care as you give yourself a break.
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Whether you are a professional care provider or a family member trying to help, taking care of yourself is a priority.
About the Author
Holly Klamer is a seasoned writer who loves to create content related to aging issues and everything to do with senior living. She is a frequent contributor to many top online publications including Assisted Living Near Me, where she creates content that is specific to assisted living for older adults, as well as SeniorLivingFacilities.net, where she writes about common issues affecting senior citizens and provides senior living advice.
Contributor since December 23rd, 2020
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