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Building confidence as a hospice caregiver—Part 1

By Terre Mirsch

Caring for a loved one with serious illness be a daunting task. Despite the love and devotion that carries us through the experience, emotions of fear and uncertainty can be overwhelming. How will I know what to do? Will I give the right medications at the right time? Could I accidentally harm my loved one? What can I expect as illness progresses? Will I be able to handle it? The anxieties that often accompany these questions may be hard to overcome and may leave you lacking confidence in your caregiving abilities.

And you are not alone in your feelings and your fears. According to recent National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization Family Evaluation of Hospice Care surveys, less than two-thirds of family members nationwide were very confident in knowing what to expect during the dying process and at the time of death of their loved one. Less than 75 percent of caregivers were very confident in doing what was needed to care for their loved one and in knowing enough about medications.

So, what is confidence anyway? And how can you, as a caregiver, influence and increase your own confidence levels as you care for your loved one?

Self-confidence, as defined in the literature, is a belief in yourself and your abilities and judgment. It is the culmination of understanding what is going on, knowing what to do about it, and utilizing the skills to do what is needed with conviction. You may better understand this concept through the following everyday example: I fully understand that if I get a flat tire I am unable to drive my car; I have the knowledge to know what to do because I took a course designed to assist me if my car should breakdown while on the road; and I also have a manual that could walk me through the steps should I need to refer to it. However, despite my understanding and knowledge, I have no confidence that I could utilize the skills to actually change my tire. I have never actually done so, nor do I feel that I have the physical strength to perform such as task. While I compensate for this lack of skill by having a roadside assistance membership, the idea that I may experience a flat tire during my travels leaves me feeling anxious and vulnerable.

Now let’s apply this same concept to your role as a caregiver. You may, indeed, understand why your loved one is experiencing a certain symptom—perhaps pain or shortness of breath. You may even recall that your healthcare team instructed you regarding what medication to give for this symptom- including the name, dose, and frequency of the medication. Perhaps the team provided you with written information about the medication that helped to increase your knowledge. But, the first time you are called upon to give the medication, you may feel a bit anxious and worry if you measuring the medication properly. You are uncertain- and lack confidence- in your ability to actually perform the task at hand. While you know that you can call the hospice team at anytime, you wish that you felt more confident in providing the necessary care when needed.

We typically build confidence in our daily tasks through practice, repetition, and a series of progressive successes. When caring for a loved one you may not have the same opportunity for practice and repetition. There are, however, ways that you can increase your confidence levels despite these limitations.

On Thursday, I’ll give you a list of things you can do to feel more confident in your caregiving. In the mean time, take a look at the Useful Tools section. We’ve compiled information you can print out to help you. Let us know if there is something you have a question about, and we’ll try to answer it in a post or with a new tool.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Terry,

    First thank you for supporting our journey by following middlescapes.

    Your post here is very timely. Mom woke up extremely short of breath this morning and even after I had given her medication, it wasn’t kicking in too quickly and I kept telling myself you know this will work she will be breathing deeper and be less fearful in a moment.

    At the same time I found myself hovering, filling meds for the day and doing chores in the kitchen where she was sitting that really didn’t need to be done yet. When she finally started breathing deeply I realized my shoulders were up around my ears.

    This is a truly inspiring journey we are on together AND at the same time as she moves farther away I find myself more alone in it.

    Thank you for all you do to make this part of the world a better place.

    June 28, 2012
    • oops my bad, Terre, I apologize for mis-spelling your name. I was so excited that I was careless, another sign or caregiving haze?

      June 28, 2012
    • Hello Beth,
      Thank you very much for sharing your experience in caring for your mother. It is amazing how quickly we can become anxious and uncertain, even with tasks that we have done many times before. I am glad that this post was useful in validating your experience, and hope that Part II was equally helpful in providing you with some helpful tips for becoming more confident as you continue your journey. Caregiving is as much an art as it is a science, and ultimately only requires one’s love and devotion in order to be successful.
      I am happy that we can be here to accompany you as you continue your journey. Thank you for your thoughts and for following Caring with Confidence.

      July 1, 2012

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