Over 37 million people in the United States suffer from chronic migraines. Chances are you know someone who is disabled several times a month with excruciating head pain. If you have never had a migraine yourself, it can be easy to dismiss it as another headache until you see a loved one sidelined from life.
If a friend or loved one is in the midst of a migraine attack, you may feel there’s nothing you can do. Feelings of helplessness are common among caregivers. But you can do a lot to help.
Why Migraineurs Need Support
A migraineur is someone who suffers from migraines. A migraine is a disabling, debilitating condition that causes so much pain it can keep someone from doing anything more than lie in a bed with the lights off.
Life continues to flow all around them, but they cannot participate, sometimes even in their own care. Daily routines are disrupted, meals aren’t prepared, and jobs aren’t performed. At the worst, a migraineur may not be able to call or visit a healthcare provider on their own, nor can they clearly articulate their concerns.
Remembering instructions and following through on treatment can be an immense challenge. You can do so much to help.
Focus on the Positive
Do you remember the song, “Accentuate the Positive”? You may not be able to eliminate the negative, but you can keep your focus, and that of the migraineur, on the positive. It isn’t difficult.
Offer kind words, send cards, or bring over a meal on a bad day. Learn what the sufferer can do and focus your energy on that. Don't spend all your time thinking about what they can’t do, and don’t let them stew about it either.
Yes, they are in pain, and they have limitations. Don't dwell. Do what you can.
Advocate for the Patient
Self-care is difficult when your head is splitting and your stomach is churning. Answering questions and ensuring time is taken to rest are often difficult. As an advocate, you can ensure the migraineur is keeping appointments or has a ride to the emergency room if it comes to that.
Answer or clarify information with the healthcare providers as much as possible on behalf of the patient. Explain symptoms if needed, and keep tabs on medications.
Educate yourself about migraines, so you understand what is going on. Also, patients have different needs during the course of the attack. Migraines come in phases, and what helps during one phase may be irritating or impossible during another.
Migraineurs may have triggers that cause a migraine to occur. Learn what they are so you can help control them. Explain symptoms to mutual friends or coworkers, and advocate for breaks and time off. Some additional ways to advocate for a migraineur include:
- Enforce meal breaks. Lack of food can bring on a migraine.
- Encourage taking time off when they feel good so they can ease stress.
- Tell the boss that migraines are not a fake-out. Migraine is a disabling condition that doesn’t always respond well to treatment.
- Be there to explain when invitations are extended why the individual has responded with regrets.
Encouraging a healthy lifestyle can go a long way towards a better life for the migraineur. If your spouse is the sufferer, learn the migraine triggers, and do your best to reduce or eliminate them. Buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains, and fix healthy meals.
Join with your loved one in getting exercise and finding a hobby that helps them relax. And no guilt-tripping at cancellations.
Watch for Depression
Depression is a common comorbidity of migraines, meaning migraineurs often suffer from depression due to their condition. Learn the signs of depression so you can get them help if needed:
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
- Loss of interest in sex
- Loss of appetite or, more rarely, an increase in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating, even to movies or conversations
- Talking about feelings of shame, guilt, hopelessness, or excess worry
If any of these symptoms occur daily for at least two weeks, get help. Most of all, follow your own instincts. When you are close to someone, you can see when things aren’t right sooner than anyone else can.
Discourage Unhelpful Behaviors
Obviously, if someone is in severe pain, you don’t want to force them to party. On the other hand, don’t let them withdraw from all social activities and completely isolate themselves. Encourage the individual to get up in the morning and go to work, school, or some other daily activity that gets them moving and out of the house.
Above all, do not encourage taking more medication than prescribed. More is not better, and it can certainly become worse. Taking too much medication on a regular basis can result in a rebound headache that is every bit as bad as the migraine you are trying to resolve.
Help Around the House
Someone suffering recurring migraines may feel frustrated at their inability to clean the house or fix meals. Perform some of the general household tasks like washing the dishes and sweeping the floor; avoid a loud vacuum if noise is a trigger. Cook simple meals.
Lay out comfortable clothes and darken the interior of the house if you know your spouse is coming home early due to migraines. Change out all those fluorescent lights for other types of bulbs, and add a dimmer switch. Lower the volume of the TV or music.
Run errands to the grocery store or pharmacy. Outings to retail stores can mean encountering fluorescent lights, another common migraine trigger.
Help with the kids, pets, and doctor visits. DWM (Driving With Migraine) should be discouraged.
Create a Migraine Care Package
Migraines often occur without warning. Once the discomfort starts, nobody wants to rummage around the house looking for things to make them feel better. Put together a kit and put it in an accessible place for these emergencies. Here are some suggestions for what to include in your migraine care package:
- Earplugs, eyeshades, and ice packs
- Bland crackers and plenty of water
- Menthol and/or lavender-scented oils, ointments, or sachets
- Socks and comfortable clothing
Put everything in one place so the migraineur can get to it quickly and easily.
Encourage Specialty Assistance
If the individual hasn’t sought out a migraine specialist, do a little research and then encourage them to see one. Migraine specialists keep up with the latest in treatments and have the experience to help your friend or loved one discover the best medications, diet, and activities for them.
Afterward, help the patient follow the plan laid out by the specialist or another healthcare provider.
A last word…
Take care of yourself. Caregiver burnout is a real thing. Allowing yourself to be overwhelmed won’t help the migraineur or you.
If you have any questions about migraines and their treatment, give us a call. We are happy to help.