Being Sensitive to a Long-term Illness
Caring for someone with a long-term illness requires sensitivity both to the illness and the ways in which the illness will alter someone's day-to-day life. Though long term illnesses affect a great number of people in the United Kingdom (about 17.5 million), carers who have never dealt with long term illnesses before may feel unsure about how to cope with them and best support their loved ones.
To make yourself more comfortable, and to ensure that you are sensitive to those living with a long term illness, try to find out as much as you can about the illness, speak with your loved one to find out about his or her new reality, help your loved one make new plans for the future and discuss with your loved one what you can do to be the most help to him or her.
Find Out About the IllnessToday there are many ways to find out about long term illnesses and chronic conditions - you can have a look through the web based resources like the NHS Direct Health Encyclopaedia or The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Get in touch with UK charities or associations related to the particular illness or condition and ask for information for family and friends. Browse literature or Web pages from similar organisations in other countries. Speak with your GP, your loved one's GP or specialists. Contact a representative of your loved one's medical clinics. Find a support group related to your loved one's illness or condition. There are many options for gaining information about your loved one's health, so don't be afraid to track down many different sources to get the most complete picture possible.
Speak With Your Loved OneIn addition to finding out what the medical community knows about a particular illness or condition, talk to your loved one to find out how his or her life has changed because of the diagnosis. What differences has (s)he had to make in day-to-day life? Are there particular activities in which (s)he can no longer participate? Has (s)he found a new way to do certain chores or errands? Has (s)he had to organise assistance with particular things? Is there equipment that can help him or her with daily activities? How does (s)he feel about these changes? When you begin to understand the impact a long term illness or condition has had on your loved one's life you will better understand how to be sensitive to his or her new reality.
Help a Loved One Make New PlansVery often the a long term illness or chronic condition means that a person's plans for the future will need to change because of what the illness or condition will mean for them. Continued ill health, medical treatments and medication may all mean that what someone thought would happen in the future may not be able to happen after all. Being sensitive to a loved one may well mean listening to him or her discuss what (s)he may no longer be able to do, and possibly encouraging him or her to plan new things for the future. It may also mean helping a loved one grieve for these lost plans or possibilities, and helping him or her see the opportunities now opening.
Discuss Your AssistanceWhen you feel ready, discuss with your loved one how you can be of assistance to him or her. Don't jump in and do things without asking and don't assume when or where your loved one will need help. If (s)he asks you to help him or her arrange for other assistance, discuss why (s)he prefers this option. Never assume you know what (s)he is thinking or what you can do that will be the most help. Being sensitive to a loved one with a long term illness or chronic condition means following his or her lead in regards to his or her own life.
Being sensitive to a long term illness means finding out about the illness in general and how it affects your loved in particular. Carrying out your own research, speaking with your loved one, helping your loved one make new plans and discussing how you can best be of help are all part of being sensitive to a long term illness.