Caregiving 101: FAQs

June 13, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

There are all sorts of caregivers, nurses and specialists in this world, who deal with all types of patients. Sometimes, this is simple – if you’re caring for an elderly patient, you help ensure they don’t fall, you perform normal daily chores for them, cook them food, give them their medication, etc. It’s fairly straightforward. But what about when you’re caring for someone in a wheelchair?

When you’re dealing with a wheelchair user, you’re operating at a completely different level. You see the world as most people do – through the lens of someone who has the use of both legs. But with wheelchair users, they see the world a little differently. Theirs is a world full of challenges rather than opportunities.

So what else should you know about caring for a wheelchair user? Here are some frequently asked questions:

Should I help them with every single task?

No. Absolutely not. Even if the person wants to be coddled, are you going to be there 24/7? This person needs to become self-sufficient, because relying on others is dangerous. People are not infallible.

However, most wheelchair users are also fiercely independent. Imagine you’ve just been told all the things you “can’t” do. Wouldn’t you want to complete every task you’re still able to? Wouldn’t you feel limited and confined by your physical restrictions? Many wheelchair users share that sentiment, so let them do things on their own. Help when it’s needed; not when you think it’s needed.

How do I keep it from being awkward?

Being uncomfortable on a regular basis feels like part of adulthood, but it doesn’t need to be awkward between you and your patient. Do your best to treat this person just like anyone else; after all, nothing happened to their brain! Don’t speak louder to them, don’t watch your words, don’t do anything differently; just talk to them like the wheelchair isn’t even there.

Another pro-tip: try to get down to eye level with the patient when conversing, so they don’t have to constantly look up at you. And if you’re ever in public and someone addresses you like you speak for the patient (pretty common), don’t let them get away with it. Ask them to address the wheelchair user directly. Just because they’re disabled doesn’t mean they can’t speak for themselves.

What are some unforeseen situations we could run into?

Depending on how close you are to the patient, you may go on trips or even vacations with them; or you might just help them on their way. If your patient is traveling, ensure they’re up-to-date on all the procedures for air travel, reasonable hotel accommodations and so on.

Another common source of trouble: transferring. This is probably the riskiest thing your patient will do on a regular basis – because whenever the patient is out of the chair, it’s a risk. You should be very careful whenever you help your patient transfer, and encourage them not to do it alone unless necessary. It’s a legitimate safety concern.

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