Migraine can impact the lives of caregivers as well as patients. Jaime Sanders explains how to support a loved one with the condition.
Living with migraine can be challenging, not only for the person who experiences migraine, but for their loved ones too.
Husbands, wives, parents, and children may have to step into the role of the caregiver, sometimes without truly understanding the condition. It’s easy to feel helpless as they watch the person they love live in disabling pain.
Those of us who have this kind of support often feel guilty about it. It isn’t fair to our family and friends — this isn’t the life they signed up for.
Here are a few things that our loved ones can do to help support us on this pain journey.
Learn about migraine
Understanding what migraine is makes all the difference in how you help your loved one. Many people don’t realise how severe the disease can be. Some people may consider migraine as “just a headache” that can be cured with paracetamol. This misconception leads to stigma and lack of understanding, empathy, and awareness.
Through education we can lessen the stigma and stop blaming the person living with migraine.
The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd Edition defines migraine as a recurrent headache disorder that causes episodes lasting from 4 to 72 hours long.
Common symptoms include the headache being on one side with a moderate to severe throbbing sensation, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, and pain aggravated by physical activity.
According to The Migraine Trust, migraine is the third most common disease in the world and affects around 1 in 7 people, including women, men and children. In the US, around 4 million adults experience chronic migraine, having 15 or more headache days per month
Migraine impacts more than we think
Migraine doesn’t only impact the person living with it. It also impacts employment, families, and the economy. In one study, researchers found that 63 percent of Americans living with migraine are concerned about productivity and 45 percent are concerned about employment.
Plus, the social and economic consequences of migraine are a public health issue. Approximately $36 billion is spent annually on healthcare and lost productivity in the United States because of migraine. The cost of healthcare is 70 percent more for a family that has someone with migraine compared to families without one.
Yet, despite the devastating impact of migraine, it remains an under-treated and frequently undiagnosed disease.
Ways you can help
There are many ways that you can help support your loved one with migraine:
If you can, attend doctor appointments with your loved one. You might have questions to ask that your loved one hasn’t considered. Write them down beforehand. If the appointment time is limited, email your questions to the doctor in advance.
Make these doctor appointments as productive as possible. Your loved one will appreciate you being an active participant in their healthcare.
Help migraine-proof your loved one’s room
Whether it’s their bedroom, family room, or office, we have that one room we go to during a migraine attack.
My bedroom has become my “cave.” I have room-darkening shades to help block out the sun. I also have a mini-fridge for my ginger ale and water, and to keep my ice packs cold. Lastly, I have a smart TV, so I can watch my favourite movies and shows anytime with the brightness dialled all the way down.
Keep comforting items that your loved one needs during a migraine attack readily available in his or her favourite room. Make medications, ear plugs, a sleep mask, migraine-tinted glasses, heating pads, and ice packs easily accessible for yourself.
Participate in migraine awareness events
There are many annual events that help to increase awareness and educate the public about migraine. If there isn’t a walk or run in your area or if it will be too physically demanding for your loved one, look into virtual races.
These events provide an opportunity to do some fundraising to help support migraine research.
Develop a plan if A&E is needed
Migraine attacks can be so severe that an accident and emergency room (A&E) visit is necessary. If your loved one visits A&E often, it’s helpful to have a protocol in place.
As a team, sit down with the doctor treating your loved one. Come up with a treatment plan, signed off by the doctor, if a visit to A&E is necessary. List specific medications, dosages, and a brief synopsis of the patient’s history with migraine.
The less questions that A&E doctors need to ask about your loved one’s pain, the quicker and more effectively he or she can be treated.
Find support for you too
Look for local or online support groups for caregivers. It’s important to take care of yourself too!
Not everyone will understand the toll that taking care of sick and disabled loved ones takes on caregivers. There are a lot of perfectly normal, but often painful emotions that come along with the role of the caregiver. You may feel frustrated, helpless, guilty, or alone. Finding people who are going through a similar situation helps with how you cope in the long run.
Being a caregiver to someone living with migraine can be challenging. Immerse yourself in facts about the condition and find ways to support your loved one. Accompany them to appointments or participate in events to raise awareness. Doing so will not only help your loved one, but it’ll help increase your understanding and acceptance.
NPS-IE-NP-00368 December 2021