Peripheral neuropathy symptoms can be challenging to cope with physically and emotionally. And while you may not be experiencing the symptoms yourself, watching a loved one struggle comes with its own challenges. You may feel hopeless because you don’t know how to help and support them during this difficult time.
The first step to helping your loved one is understanding their peripheral neuropathy and how it affects their life. Here are some tips for helping your loved one cope with their condition.
What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage in the extremities. The damaged nerves send mixed or corrupted signals to the brain, making them feel sensations unrelated to any physical stimulus. The most common symptoms include:
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Hypersensitivity to touch
- Muscle weakness
- Lack of coordination
- Balance issues or falls
How Does Peripheral Neuropathy Affect Daily Living?
To a casual onlooker, the struggles of living with peripheral neuropathy may not be noticeable. Invisible and debilitating conditions, such as neuropathy, can be hard to understand until you see them in action. The impact of nerve damage can affect everything in your loved one’s day, right down to the simple tasks that have been part of their daily routine for years.
Painful hands and lack of dexterity in fingers can make it difficult to fasten buttons on their clothing, tie their shoes, or fix their hair. Balance issues can also make it more difficult to put on pants or take a shower.
Numbness and tingling, or any other sensation caused by neuropathy, can mask other sensations like pain. It can make it dangerous for them to cook because they may not feel it if they get burned or cut themselves.
So much of driving is simple muscle memory. You don’t have to think about stepping on the brakes when a dog darts into the street. But with misfiring nerves, someone with foot numbness may have delayed reaction times or be unable to feel the pedals. The cramping in their hands while driving makes it difficult to steer.
While the movements are the same ones they have used since they were a toddler, the numbness in their feet does not allow them to feel the uneven spots or trip hazards below them. Losing their balance on uneven ground or tripping over a raised section of concrete can easily trigger a fall, especially because their reflexes are slower as well.
These are just a few of the challenges your loved one faces daily. Carry these principles through all other daily tasks, and you get a sense of what living with peripheral neuropathy is like.
The Emotional Impact
For people who have taken care of themselves and others their entire adult life, the limitations and loss of independence that come with peripheral neuropathy are often frustrating. Some may be embarrassed or unwilling to ask for help, so they quit doing unnecessary tasks. They may isolate themselves because it’s too painful or challenging to get ready, drive across town, and participate in an event.
Neuropathy can also affect sleep. The covers may hurt hypersensitized skin, or the pain may be too distracting to relax. Sleep deprivation is linked to irritability, loss of concentration, changes in appetite, decreased capacity to make good decisions, depression, forgetfulness, loss of coordination, and more.
Even more devastating, people with long-term debilitating conditions can sink into a deep depression because they think it will never improve.
How Can You Help a Loved One With Neuropathy?
The loss of health or a former lifestyle can be painful. Expect them to go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. A licensed therapist can help them navigate this emotional journey and adjust to a new way of living.
Nutrition and Exercise:
A healthy lifestyle creates an environment that allows the body to heal as much as possible. The amount of healing your loved one has depends on the underlying cause, how quickly they seek neuropathy treatment, and how well they follow the treatment plan. But some foods can worsen symptoms while others minimize them.
Neuropathy can mask the pain from blisters and cuts on the feet. Untreated damage can lead to infections, sepsis, amputations, and death. Make sure they have access to comfortable, well-fitting, and supportive shoes, and they check their feet for damage daily. At the first hint of an infection, like spreading redness or heat at the injury site, take them to the doctor.
Every year, they develop new ways for patients to accomplish daily tasks. Simple ideas include pullover shirts rather than button-ups and slip-on shoes. Use cushioned mats where they might stand for long periods, like doing dishes or preparing meals.
Neuropathy in the feet makes them a more significant fall risk. Keeping the floors clear, removing area rugs and other trip hazards, providing a cane or walker for stability, and adding rails next to stairs and in the bathroom can make them safer.
Massaging the hands and feet can increase circulation while easing discomfort.
Sometimes, the best way to help is to distract them from the pain by visiting. Friendly visits help them to feel loved and supported rather than alone.
You Can Help More Than You Think
You can do many things to help your loved one live with peripheral neuropathy. The simple things you do to show your love and support and ease their pain can make a significant difference in their quality of life. Don’t let them give up hope on their future. Keep trying till you find the best way to make their life more fulfilling and joyful.
Note: Don’t forget that caregiving can also be stressful. Take time for yourself as well.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article, are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
Coping with peripheral neuropathy, marked by nerve damage, poses significant physical and emotional challenges. Supporting a loved one involves understanding emotional stages, providing therapy, and offering practical assistance for an improved quality of life. Caregivers play a crucial role with regular visits, emotional support, and recognizing the positive impact of their involvement.