There are many different types of seniors out there, who all have different needs. Along with them are their family members who provide help and care to them; also with their own personality styles, abilities and needs. But there is a common core of traits most commonly found in successful family caregivers, regardless of the “type” of senior they are caring for. I’ve pulled them together here. I’m betting that you have many of these traits, but maybe not all of them, and that’s okay. If there is one, or even a few, that can be improved on, it’s okay, don’t beat yourself up. Just try to focus on building those traits a little at a time. Knowledge is the first step, my friend! You are awesome! The following are 15 traits of a great caregiver, in no particular order.
Getting ready for a doctor’s appointment for your senior? Did dressing them take way longer than you thought? Ready to run out the door, but oops, diaper needs to be changed? Rush across town because now you’re really late for the appointment, only to get there and have to wait 45 minutes for your senior to be seen. This is par for the course, and you don’t let it get you down or frustrated.
Doctor’s appointments, specialist appointments, lab work, home health therapy visit and the case manager from your senior’s HMO wants to schedule an appointment for a home visit! Who is doing what, where, when, how???? And what about your appointments with your child’s school teacher and your DMV business that you have to take care of before you lose your driver’s license? In order to keep the many, many tasks, errands and responsibilities in order, you absolutely must be organized. Whether you’ve found “an app for that”, use a Day Planner, or a good old fashioned calendar, you are organized and write everything down.
Compassion grows out of empathy. When your mother looks sad and depressed because the doctor just gave some bad news about her health, you try to understand how she must feel. That is empathy. But when you walk over and give her a hug and encouragement, this is compassion. It is the action you take when you have empathy. You really need both since you need to have insight into what your senior is going through, and you need to be able to take action to provide comfort or make a change for the better.
Be there when you say you’ll be there, and do what you say you are going to do. The tasks that you promise to do for the senior are likely not things that they can live without; such as grocery shopping, taking your senior to the doctor or paying the bills. They need these things done and if not done, it puts them at risk.
There is no getting around it. There is soooo much that you have to know. You have gotten a crash course in medical school and learning about all the important diagnosis that your senior suffers from; the causes, the treatments, the symptoms and what to look out for on a daily basis. You need to know about insurance, HMO’s, co-insurance, medi-gap insurance, V.A. insurance, life insurance and how to navigate all these systems. You know about getting a power of attorney and advance healthcare directives. The list goes on and on. You are willing to acknowledge the things that you don’t know and are willing to learn.
You don’t just treat each day like the last one. Your senior’s physical status can change in an instant. You are attentive to the small changes in things like the color of their urine, skin or eye color. Changes in their eating behavior, appetite or weight loss/gain. Change can occur in their mentation or alertness. Changes in the consistence of their bowel movements. These small changes alert you to call the doctor for further guidance.
You may have taken on the responsibility of managing your seniors money and other assets, as well as their household items. You keep those assets separate from your own, and they are only used for the needs of your senior. Unless your senior has given you explicit permission (preferably in writing) for you to use their funds for your personal use, or sell their property, you don’t do it. That would be considered financial abuse and you could go to jail. But hey, that’s the social worker coming out of me, I can’t help it!
The time that you give to your senior to provide care and assistance may be mundane, boring or downright agonizing at times. Whether you are a full-time caregiver or provide occasional care to your senior, sometimes you may think “what did I get myself into?” But you try to keep a good outlook on each day. You have the honor and opportunity to provide love and care to your senior and you do it with a smile on your face. I know not every minute is sheer pleasure, but you get through it by whistling a tune, or singing out loud! Your senior doesn’t feel guilty that you “have” to provide them care. They feel like you “want” to provide them care, help and companionship.
You are able to articulate to the doctor new symptoms that your senior may be experiencing. You are able to report the frequency, duration, and intensity of symptoms. In order to relay information accurately, you write it all down. Yes, here I go with the need to be organized again! You are able to report what has worked, and not worked. You are able to speak up to doctors and other professionals to advocate for your senior. You are also a good communicator to your family members regarding how your senior is doing and what additional support they could use. There is a great non-profit website, Caring Bridge, that allows you to set up a website and you can report daily, weekly, or monthly, whenever you want, regarding how your senior is doing, what’s new and what they need. This way you don’t have to feel bad about leaving anyone out of the loop, because they can be in the loop if they just open the website. Oh yea, Caring Bridge is free to use! Yeah, we love free!
Whether you want to hear it or not, being a family caregiver is one of the most stressful and difficult jobs that you can have. But you probably already knew that! You know it’s important to avoid burnout, because burnout looks leads to a lower quality of care, less dependability, increased irritability which may lead to anger or abuse. All of these things could lead to your senior no longer being in your care, or getting sick, or you giving up on caregiving all together. You are able to identify your signs of stress and overwhelm and do something about it immediately. You manage stress and avoid burnout by taking breaks and having some time off of your caregiving duties.
Willing to Sit Awhile
There are so many things on your to-do list and you never seem to be able to get to the bottom of it. You are always busy taking care of things and running around. But you still take the time to just sit down with your senior. Sometimes family caregivers are so busy they forget that they are also the seniors companion. You sit down once in a while to chat or watch TV with them, ask them questions about their childhood and growing up or stories about other family members. You play cards or checkers if they like that. You sit and look at old photo albums. Your senior loves your company. While you are a giving person and give all the time to your senior, this special giving of your undivided attention and personal one-on-one time is more valuable than all the other giving that you do.
Ability to Let it Go
Providing care for your senior may get intense at times. There is much to do and often not enough time to do it. Sometimes things don’t go your way. The ability to “go with the flow” goes far in caregiving. Especially when your senior wants to do things their own way. If it’s not hurting anyone, you are able to let it go.
You don’t always have to be the talker. You are able to slow down and take a good listen to what your senior has to say, what they want, and how they want to do it.
Providing care can be an intimate job. It may involve helping your senior go to the bathroom, change clothes, bathe or change diapers. It may have become just another normal part of your day; something that you just have to get through with not much thought. But you can imagine what that task is like from your senior’s point of view. You imagine it was you and how you would want to be treated. You would want to maintain your privacy and dignity. It’s ok to wear underwear in the shower, or to place a small towel on their lap while sitting for a shower. Let them wash their own front @private parts if they are capable of doing so. You treat them like an adult, not a child and you talk with respect and not put them down. Giving them dignity make you both feel better about the relationship and the duties involved.
As I mentioned before, things can take forever to get done. Being realistic about the amount of time things will take will go a long way in your patience and will reduce stress and anger. Another area where being realistic is so important is knowing how much your senior is capable of doing. Just because they could get out of the car by them self last month, doesn’t mean they can do it today. You don’t assume they are just being stubborn or doing it on purpose just to get you mad. Aging, along with any chronic disease they may have, are both progressive; you don’t take it out on them.
Now, it’s your turn. How many of these traits do you have? Which ones can you work on a little?