Perhaps you’ve been caring for an aging parent for years, or you recently visited and realized that your loved one needs some extra help with personal hygiene, preparing meals, or recuperating after a surgery. You know it’s time to ask for professional, in-home help. Opening your home and your heart to a new person who will be your loved one’s aide and, in many ways, a companion, can stir some concern — and questions.
How do you know if this person is the right fit? Will he or she be able to provide quality care and balance it with compassion, patience, and even a sense of humor? What will the reaction be if your elder decides to be a bit stubborn that day? What qualities should an in-home caregiver demonstrate — where do you even begin your search?
Caring.com recently featured Caring Champions, those “best of the best” nominated by families, caregivers, and agencies. They are those in-home caregivers who stand out in their communities. Reading their stories, we noticed that Caring Champions share many common traits: initiative, enthusiasm, great communication skills, and being an elder advocate when necessary. These qualities remind us of what to ask for when choosing a in-home caregiver, and they remind us that there are dedicated professionals who have a passion for what they do and will treat our loved ones with the honor they deserve.
1. They Show Sound Judgment and Confident Care.
Great caregivers have a sense of what an elder might not be able to communicate verbally. This ability takes focus, courage, and confidence. Speaking up and sometimes speaking out to meet the needs of our aging population is vital to the well-being of our elders.
2. They Show Initiative and Quick Response.
Good caregivers know what needs to be done. They have the energy, the capability, and the drive to take action. They’re always aware of the physical and emotional needs of those in their care, noticing when something is “off,” and they don’t give up until they figure out how to address the problem. Our elders need caregivers with these traits, because often they can’t communicate themselves, or they simply don’t know what’s wrong. These caregivers possess the courage and tenacity to make sure our elders receive the best of care.
3. They Have Enthusiasm for the Work They Do and for Those in Their Care.
Exceptional caregivers love what they do — and it shows. They know that elders face many challenges, from isolation and loss of personal freedom to pain and confusion to depression and financial worries. Exceptional caregivers light up the room. They smile, listen, laugh, hug, and do all they can to get their folks up and moving.
5. They Help Make Your Home Your Haven.
When our elders lose their ability to keep their house because of physical or memory issues, they don’t realize that their homes lose some of their hominess. Great caregivers know just what’s needed to give our seniors a place of warmth and hope. It’s the little touches that make a big difference. Whether it’s serving a nutritious meal, placing a cozy lap blanket over chilly legs, or scooping a bowl of their favorite ice cream as an afternoon treat, great caregivers combine excellent care with thoughtful details.
6. They Look at the Whole Picture.
Sometimes things just don’t add up, and it takes a good caregiver super sleuth to look past the obvious and find out what’s really going on. Many factors must be considered when it comes to elder care: Medications and their interactions, dietary needs, underlying “silent” issues that haven’t been diagnosed, and emotional and cognitive concerns can all be at play. Good caregivers step back and look at the whole in order to better understand their clients’ needs.
7. They Complement Family Care.
Stepping into a family during the time when care is needed for a loved one can be tricky. It’s important to complement the family and become part of the elder’s circle of care. Sometimes that means slipping in quietly and finding out what needs to be addressed without adding stress to already strained family dynamics. It’s important to be diplomatic and to quell family disagreements whenever possible. At other times, an exceptional caregiver knows intuitively when to step up and do the right thing even when it’s not easy.
One Caring Champion who knows how to complement family care is Denice M. of From the Heart Elder Care in Sussex, New Jersey. Denice is known for her discrete manner and the kind, unassuming way she cared for the family of one of her clients in his final days. Denice did all she could to help the family during this delicate time. She took care of their father so that the family could rest and make necessary preparations. She quietly did their dishes and laundry so that the house could continue to run smoothly and they would be free just to sit with their dad. She even assisted with his two-year-old grandson, allowing his parents the peace of mind to be with their loved one during his passing.
8. They Get Elders Back in the Game.
The golden years are supposed to be golden! Yet too many of our elders have forgotten that they are still amazing and have much left to give. A good caregiver sees our elders for the fabulous folks they are. They get them up, talking, dancing, and doing the things they love to do.
9. They Take Control When Needed.
Sometimes it takes a strong person to get the job done, and Caring Champions will do whatever is necessary to protect and provide for elders in need. They’ll do what they have to do and won’t back down until their elders receive proper attention.
10. They’re Great Communicators.
Good care relies on good communication. Caring Champions know just how important it is to be able to connect with elders and their families and convey important information in way that’s clear, concise, and creates an atmosphere of trust for everyone involved. Caregivers must also be able to communicate effectively with their employers and others in the elder-care field. Many misunderstandings, overlooked issues, and even serious health and safety issues can be avoided with clear communication.