Caregiving is a massive task. For caregivers of chronic pain patients, however, the demands can be especially overwhelming. A recent article published in the academic journal Nursing and Palliative Care takes a closer look at the loneliness and burden of caregivers of chronic pain patients. Here’s what all caregivers need to know.
The Chronic Pain Problem
Chronic pain is linked with a number of debilitating conditions including headaches, arthritis, cancer, nerve pain, back pain and fibromyalgia.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “People who have chronic pain can have physical effects that are stressful on the body. These include tense muscles, limited ability to move around, a lack of energy, and appetite changes. Emotional effects of chronic pain include depression, anger, anxiety, and fear of re-injury. Such a fear might limit a person's ability to return to their regular work or leisure activities.”
Chronic pain can have far-reaching consequences—consequences that aren’t limited to chronic pain patients themselves.
“While pain is considered an essential process that signals injury or illness, it loses its physiological effectiveness when it progresses to become a chronic condition. In chronic situations, pain becomes a toxic influence rather than a means of raising alarm. Chronic pain impacts on every aspect of life in similar ways to that of chronic illness and leads to role change within the family,” explains research published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Understanding the Impact
Not only do people living with chronic pain experience feelings of distress, powerlessness, isolation and alienation, so too do their caregivers. In fact, according to research published in The Journals of Gerontology, chronic pain patients and their caregivers “share the risk of higher levels of psychological distress and averse effects on well-being.”
Specifically, say researchers, “Findings indicate the impact of chronic pain on the family is extensive, resulting in physical, social, and emotional changes. Four themes were revealed: (1) Family loss, (2) Life changes, (3) Emotional impact of pain, and (4) Future plans.”
As a result, caregivers often report experiencing significant physical and psychological problems of their own caused by watching their loved ones suffer without being able to help alleviate their pain. In addition to anxiety, loneliness, depression, anger and health problems, a staggering 14 percent of caregivers have considered suicide.
Adequate pain management is a critical part of the picture when it comes to improving the quality of life of both chronic pain patients and their caregivers. This may be easier than it sounds. Propose researchers, “The caregiver’s ability to effectively relieve symptoms with pharmacological interventions requires the successful use of skills related to teamwork, organization, symptom knowledge, medication knowledge, and personhood (understanding and responding to the patient’s needs).”
Unfortunately, many people struggle because these issues—which may include everything from pain monitoring to coping with the side effects—are unfamiliar to them. This can exacerbate feelings of sadness, frustration and helplessness. Not only that, but research shows that a caregiver’s mood is directly and detrimentally impacted by the level of pain the person they’re caring for is feeling.
Lee Woodruff, whose husband journalist Bob Woodruff was injured while on assignment in Iraq and suffered from tremendous chronic pain afterwards, is familiar with the challenges of caring for someone with chronic pain. Her advice? “If you are a caring for a loved one living with chronic pain, it’s important to know that there is hope and there are resources available—you are not alone. Remember to educate yourself about your loved one’s condition, draw strength from family and friends, and take the time to care for yourself.”
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