Many of us will develop at least one chronic health condition as we age, and some people will have more than one. When a person you love is experiencing an ongoing medical issue, it’s important to be present with them, respect their limits, and accommodate their wishes as much as possible.
Help without taking over
Although you may have strong ideas about what is best for your loved one, try to set these aside and ask them how you can be of help. Listening with empathy and compassion and responding to the needs they express is the best way to go. You can offer to bring meals, provide transportation to medical appointments, assist with health insurance processing, do chores around the house, or simply visit for companionship. It’s critical to respond to what they want and need rather than imposing your own ideas. You might think your loved one badly needs time out of the house, but what they want is help cleaning the bathroom–their wishes come first.
Encourage and support self-care
Self-care is critical for everyone. Those with chronic illness may know that they need to exercise and eat a healthy diet but have difficulty maintaining those habits. You can help by offering to be an exercise buddy, go to the grocery or prepare food with or for them, and also set an example by caring for yourself. Of course, you can’t force anyone to do anything, but you can share options for things such as online meditation or yoga classes, healthy meal subscription services, massages, and outings you think they might enjoy. A big part of self-care is setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Make sure you respect your loved one’s boundaries as far as what they do and do not want to attempt, their needs for rest and privacy, as well as socialization.
Learn about your loved one’s condition
It’s good to learn about their chronic illness, not so you can tell them what to do, but so you can understand some of what they are experiencing. Getting some background information can help you be a better support when you understand the symptoms, concerns, and possible complications of their situation. You may find that you want to learn and do more to the extent that you’ll want to pursue some related formal education, such as a doctorate in nursing. There are options for doing this online so that you can also continue to work and address family responsibilities. If you choose to do this, take time to evaluate the programs you’re considering for accreditation and reasonable tuition costs.
Stress relief matters
Any ongoing challenges can create the need for stress relief, and chronic illness is no different. Signs of stress taking a toll include irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. In addition to appropriate exercise and sleep, there are other things you can encourage. Support groups, whether online or in person, can be quite helpful, and individual therapy is also an option. With their consent, you can help your loved one make minor changes to their home that reduce stress and enhance well-being. Letting in natural light and offering a window view of nature can give a boost to both physical and mental health.
If a good window view is not possible, bringing in a houseplant may be helpful. Reducing clutter can also reduce stress, so offering to help organize and put away things might be appreciated.
Family and friends can be very important in helping a person live with chronic illness. Adequate social support is critical. Whether you’re offering to run errands, provide transportation, do chores, visit and listen, or even return to school for related formal education, your efforts might be what makes the difference for your loved one in a positive way. Remember to listen and respect their limits and wishes, and you may find that the connection enhances life for both of you.
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