Caring for Paraplegics: How to be Helpful as a Caregiver

May 9, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

We’re a society full of awkward people. If you look around the internet, you’ll see plenty of examples of this. And that’s important to remember, because awkwardness is definitely going to come into play here.

That’s one of the first things you need to get over as a caregiver for a paraplegic. Because a paraplegic has lost the use of their legs, and that’s going to lead to some awkward situations. Something as simple as a figure of speech could suddenly sound like an insult – what if you told the patient to “stand up for themselves?”

Oof.

Yeah, that’s not great, but it was probably an accident. So here’s another thing to keep in mind: some folks have a great sense of humor about this. They say laughter is the best medicine, and that humor is a great way of coping. Therefore, you might accidentally say something off-color and find your patient chuckling. But just like some folks can joke about it, others won’t be as willing. So remember this timeless rule of comedy: know your audience. Then adjust accordingly.

Respect the boundaries

Finding yourself in a wheelchair can make you feel helpless, and some people respond to that by becoming fiercely independent. Basically, if they can do something alone, then they want to try. That’s why it’s vital to recognize these boundaries and respect them. Sure, you could easily open the door for your patient, but maybe they want to do it themselves. Just don’t get in the way and be ready to help when needed.

Be patient

This is good advice for almost anyone, but especially appropriate here. How frustrating do you think living in a wheelchair can be? Our society isn’t exactly geared toward the disabled – they just get “reasonable accommodations.” So remember that whenever you’re feeling frustrated or impatient, your patient is probably even more riled up. Be as patient and understanding as you can.

Be strong

This has a double meaning here. Let’s start with the practical part: you need some serious upper body strength for this job. Helping a wheelchair user means assisting with transfers, occasionally lifting the patient and pushing them around in the wheelchair, among other things. So a little physical strength will be very helpful!

But beyond your biceps, you also need some deep, inner strength for this job. Caring for a paraplegic is not easy. It’s tireless, sometimes thankless work that requires endurance and gobs of patience. It’s common for caregivers to experience anxiety and stress, so be prepared for that. And always take a little time to take care of yourself – a broken caregiver won’t be very helpful.

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