Helping Caregivers Manage Loved Ones’ Pain

By on February 16, 2011
Partners against pain-lee woodruff

Did you know experts estimate that pain affects 53 million Americans?

As a family caregiver, no doubt you already know that it can be difficult to find the right information to help your loved one cope. Now there is help—Partners Against Pain®

NY Times best-selling author Lee Woodruff – caregiver for her husband, Bob Woodruff, ABC news anchor seriously injured in Iraq in 2006 – is teaming with Partners Against Pain® to provide support to those in need.

Lee and Partners Against Pain® are hoping to educate caregivers by spreading awareness about the Caregiver Cornerstones resource which provides information, encouragement and tools to help family caregivers meet the unique challenges they may face.

One of the best resources on this website is a Patient and Caregiver Pain Tracking Kit to record what the patient is feeling at different times of day. This information can be very valuable for your doctor to help manage the pain better.

I had the opportunity to ask Lee Woodruff some questions about her experience as a family caregiver for her husband. Some of her answers may surprise you.

CK: The US media is full of commentators telling people to “man up” about one thing or another. Did you find that people discouraged talk about pain?

Lee: Our society as a whole needs to communicate more openly and honestly about pain. For example, did you know that pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical care in the U.S.?1

The important thing to remember is that pain often is the signal letting us know that something is wrong. That’s why you should acknowledge it and seek help – you don’t have to suffer in silence. It is also critical to find a healthcare provider who you feel takes your or your loved one’s pain seriously, and is committed to working with you to manage the pain.

CK: What was the most important thing you learned as a family caregiver that you did not know before your husband’s accident?

Lee: There is so much that I learned, including the importance of being an advocate for your loved one in pain. Before my husband, Bob, suffered a traumatic brain injury while reporting in Iraq, I’m not sure I even knew that pain specialists existed. And Bob was in an incredible amount of pain — even sneezing hurt badly. Through our experience, I learned about the importance of proper pain management, and communicating effectively with Bob’s medical team.

I also came to realize that one person can’t do it all as a caregiver. I was caring for Bob and for our four children during an extremely difficult time. I learned to lower my expectations for perfection, and now I’m much more forgiving of myself – I’ve learned to leave a lot more dishes in the sink!

CK: Did you keep a pain diary? Did you discover something that you would not have known otherwise?

Lee: When this happened to Bob, I didn’t know where to turn for information or support. That’s why for the past several years I’ve been working with Purdue Pharma and their educational resource, Partners Against Pain, to help others who are in a similar situation. The website has all kinds of information and downloadlable tools – including pain diaries, medication schedules and pain assessment guides. These are the types of resources that I wish I knew about when I was thrust into the role of caregiver for Bob.

CK: The dark side of powerful pain medication is abuse. Are US doctors becoming more aware of non-drug alternatives rather than just prescribing pills?

Lee: Many individuals find that an integrative approach to pain management is most effective. This means combining medication with complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, meditation and yoga. Many times, those with chronic pain may have to try several different strategies before finding the one that works best. That’s why you need to find a healthcare professional who is experienced with treating pain, and who is willing to work with you as a partner.

CK:  What is the one question you wish people would ask you but don’t?

Lee: I think it’s important for caregivers to remember to care for themselves, too. That is one of the four pillars of Caregiver Cornerstones – a program I’m involved with through Partners Against Pain. To effectively care for someone else, you must ensure that you are taking care of yourself – both physically and emotionally. When Bob was recovering, I found that when I could do just one thing for myself each day, I felt stronger and was better able to care for him and for our family. I hope that other caregivers make time for themselves, too.

Great advice!

References

1. National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Summary. Rep. no. 3. National Health Statistics Report, Centers for Disease Control, 2008.

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About CK Wilde

CK Wilde has been writing about topics close to her heart--family caregiving and multigenerational families--since 2007. She grew up in a multigenerational household and understands the positive and negative aspects of close family living. CK believes that caring for her father during the last two years of his life and raising two terrific young men have been her most important accomplishments.