AARP Eye Center
Nurses are on the front lines when it comes to caregiving. They walk into work each day, ready to dispense both physical and mental medicine; they motivate, inspire, heal and deliver care in every medical situation. And, of course, behind every nursing uniform is a person — a parent or sibling, friend or child — who may be returning home to a caregiving situation with their own family members.
When my husband was in a coma for 36 days in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, the nurses were my heroes. They understood how to dispense hope without making promises, and they did that through sharing a story or anecdote about patients who had recovered well. Those helpful stories were often just enough of a nugget to get me through the day.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
As caregivers, there is so much we can learn from nurses. Here are some pieces of wisdom, coping skills and advice from nurses that can help each of us in our daily roles.
Make yourself as strong as you can
Kiera Powell, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a nurse with Carewell, a health care e-commerce company that provides home health products, support and resources to caregivers. She graduated from UNC Charlotte School of Nursing in 2019 and almost immediately was thrown into the COVID-19 pandemic in an intensive care unit, a highly stressful environment no matter how much experience one has.
Powell saw health care professionals “burning out” all around her. She recalls the initial fear around COVID-19 before there were clearer answers about the virus. “There was so much sadness among families, and nurses were FaceTiming family members because they could not be by the bedside,” Powell recalls. “It was hard to watch that and stressful at times to constantly push down your own needs and take care of someone else. Some days it was hard to separate your needs from the patient.
“As a nurse, you often see people during the hardest time of their lives, whether it’s a loved one going through a disease or illness or someone struggling to communicate with cognitive impairment,” Powell says. “It’s important to not to take things personally. Patience and understanding are key in tense situations as they will help you avoid taking on additional stress and frustration.”
Working in the ICU, there were numerous times Powell and her team had exhausted all their resources caring for an individual. “Although we’d done all we were medically able to do, the next priority is to ensure that the patient is at ease and without distress,” she says. “As caregivers, it’s human nature to want to go above and beyond for our loved ones, but it’s important to realize when we’re doing all that we can. We all need to take time to reflect on what we can do to make day-to-day life more joyful.”
Nurses try not to bring work home, Powell says. “But for caregivers whose work is at home, it’s even more critical to have small, tiny activities that are your own, whether that’s getting a pedicure or even being alone in the grocery store.”
“Ask yourself what you can do to make yourself as strong as you can,” she suggests. “You have to be able to step away from time to time, as hard as that may be. It’s the same mindset as having a child. You can’t do everything for them, although you’d like to, so you need to try to get in the mindset of using outside resources for help.”