Caregiver tips for cultivating independence

Caregiver tips for cultivating independence

The independence and abilities of the one you care for can directly impact your ability to maintain your own well-being and roles as a caregiver. Some of the factors that affect caregiver strain include:

  • The number of hours spent caregiving.
  • How prepared the caregiver is for caregiving.
  • The types of care being given.
  • How much the care recipient is able to do without help (such as shopping on their own, bathing or dressing).
Enhancing the ability of the one you care for to live as independently as possible benefits not only the one receiving the care but those providing it as well.

When possible, enhancing the ability of the one you care for to live as independently as possible benefits not only the one receiving the care but those providing it as well. There is a tendency for caregivers to do more than may be necessary and create dependency as a result, so it’s very important for you to foster and encourage the one you’re caring for to be as independent as possible.

You do not need to do this alone.

It is the main goal of both physiotherapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) to see that the individuals in your care live with the most independence as possible. They are an invaluable resource for caregivers to leverage for support in cultivating independent living.

Physiotheraptists are recognized experts in the area of physical rehabilitation and are essential members of the health care team. Their primary goal is to promote optimum health and optimize an individual’s physical ability to remain as independent as possible through setting achievable goals and action plans. These physiotherapy plans for independence may include:

  • Exercises and training to improve walking, climbing stairs and transferring;
  • Training to improve one’s balance and coordination;
  • Manual therapy to improve one’s range of motion; and
  • Conducting fall prevention assessments and making home safety recommendations.

Occupational therapists assist people to solve the problems that affect what they need and want to do. They teach skills for the job of living. Their primary goal is to promote independence, maintain ability, develop skills, promote health, and restore the function needed for the individual to complete their daily activities. In addition, occupational therapists also:

  • Assess cognitive ability and teach skills to better cope with cognitive impairments;
  • Assess home safety and develop fall prevention strategies;
  • Provide techniques to reduce pain and manage stress;
  • Assist in accessing community resources; and
  • Assess and make assistive device recommendations.

Caregiver collaboration with OTs and PTs

When collaborating with occupational therapists and physiotherapists, you may be consulted during the assessment to provide relevant information regarding the individual needing care. Having this information on-hand during the appointment will speed up the process of getting the person you’re caring for the help that they need.

As the caregiver you might also be asked to participate in a number of ways with the program, such as:

  • Establishing goals and interventions
  • Physically supporting the individual
  • Implementing strategies and/or recommendations
  • Tracking progress and motivating the individual to consistently do the program

In turn, occupational therapists and physiotherapists will provide you with the necessary education and training you need in order to support the individual.

Caregiver technology that promotes independence

Here are some examples of how technology has made great strides towards assisting caregivers and promoting independence and improved quality of life for patients who now have to depend on caregivers to help them go about their day.

SlingSerter has been developed by Toronto Rehab as a way to reduce the effort needed to insert a sling under a person to help caregivers with patient lift and transfer activities. This is important since positioning a sling under a client is physically demanding, while lifting and transferring without can increase the risk of back injury. SlingSerter uses air pressure to place a set of lifting straps between the client and the bed, with little movement of the client on the bed and low caregiver effort. With SlingSerter, inserting a sling can be a quick, comfortable, and safe experience for clients and caregivers.

PostureCoach has been developed by Toronto Rehab and Saint Elizabeth researchers and clinicians as a way to provide on-the-job coaching to caregivers to reduce the risk of back injury. This is important since caregivers are at a high risk of back injuries due to the use of awkward postures when handling clients. PostureCoach uses an Android smartphone application and two accelerometer-based sensors in a wearable vest to monitor caregiver postures while they work. With PostureCoach, real-time feedback is given to the user the same way a coach would give feedback to an athlete when poor postures are used.

SafeBack has been developed by Toronto Rehab and Saint Elizabeth researchers and clinicians as a way to help caregivers identify and change tasks that may place excessive loads on the spine. This is important since caregivers are at a high risk of back injuries when handling clients (i.e. lifting heavy loads) and/or working in awkward postures. SafeBack is an Android smartphone application that allows you to take a picture of a caregiving task, match a model to the caregiver posture, and receive on-the-spot feedback about the risk of back injury associated with a given activity. With SafeBack, you can turn any workspace into a safe lifting environment.

In the field of robotics, exoskeletons are now being used in dozens of rehab centers in the United States to help people who have had strokes or spinal injuries to learn how to walk again. The Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre Society in Northern Alberta purchased the first ReWalk exoskeleton in Canada. It is now on loan to the University of Alberta to undergo research on its effectiveness as a rehabilitation tool. In Japan, a mobile phone company called SoftBank has developed and launched an emotionally intelligent robot called Pepper, which sold out in under a minute. These intelligent humanoids were designed to function in homes, shops and, more importantly, specialized care facilities to help take care of the elderly.

Apps like, which can reportedly cut a 20 minute appointment to as little as 90 seconds, are being used by doctors to streamline their online appointments. Apps like this allow caregivers to spend less time at the doctor’s office with the person they’re taking care of, and more time on other things that equally as important.

Caregiver exercise

As a caregiver, reflect on the ABILITIES of the one you are caring for and take a minute to write them down. Are there opportunities for them to be more engaged and involved in their everyday care and activities? Remember that what is considered easy for one individual may not be for another so try to be realistic and when possible include the one you are caring for in establishing goals and new routines.

Consider co-creating an action plan that helps you and the one you care for take simple and actionable steps towards one goal. It is important that this is a mutually developed goal and the plan is realistic and attainable. Don’t forget to celebrate the successes along the way.

Read also our Elizz article on Assisting someone with daily living needs.

Additional Resources

For more information about Occupational Therapy and how it can benefit those in your care, please visit the following websites:

The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists

OT Ontario - Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists

Manitoba Physiotherapy Association

Physiotherapy Alberta College + Association

Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia

For inspiration, information, and opportunities for those with disabilities be sure to also check out The Abilities Foundation.  




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