When a person finds themselves in need of care, the first person expected to render that care is usually a close family relative. These good folks do their best to persist as long as it takes, sometimes for years. The ones that don’t last may find that the work is too stressful, boring, physically and emotionally difficult and too disruptive of the rest of their lives. Good as their intentions may be, very few family members can sustain a demanding caregiving effort indefinitely and when they have finally had enough, guilt and hard feelings can emerge.
What most people don’t realize is that not everyone is suited to caregiving, even when the patient is someone close to them. So what makes a person a good caregiver, especially when the patient is someone they don’t even know? Here are 7 key points to understand:
- Personality – This is the single most important ingredient to consider. Caregivers need an innate sense of selflessness and empathy, and sometimes what may seem like a natural personality fit can be deceiving. Most people have a good degree of human compassion but only those with the right set of inner ingredients can voluntarily sustain themselves over time. Don’t assume that one personality type is best until you have experience with it. Look for “sweetness,” a willingness to serve, an absence of “attitude,” and the patience to weather a patient’s bad days. Be leery of people who stipulate non-medical tasks they won’t do. With the exception of injections, wound care and dispensing medication out of prescription containers, there should not be much they won’t do. It’s their attitude toward work that matters most.
- Experience – Experience is valuable in that it helps the caregiver determine whether or not they can handle a particular assignment. But it is NOT the primary ingredient one should look for when evaluating a caregiver. An inexperienced caregiver can be more eager to please and willing to go the extra mile. Caregivers are human and they can project inappropriate characteristics and responses from past experience onto a new case without realizing they are doing it. If they have experience with a specific ailment, they may know whether or not they can handle it but your patient may exhibit entirely different behavior and past experience may or may not be relevant. On the other hand, someone with no experience caring for particularly taxing ailments like say, a dementia patient, should be carefully considered before being hired.
- Training – It is hard to argue that licensed caregivers are not more prepared for caregiving than those who have never undergone formal training. However, if the caregiver has a bad attitude or a poor work ethic, all the training and licensing in the world won’t make them a good caregiver. If your loved one needs personal care (assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, etc.), you should look for a Certified Home Health Aide (CHHA) but always assess how well their personality fits. However, an experienced person with a natural aptitude can be every bit as effective with a particular patient. Providing training is one of the many functions of a home healthcare agency.
- Reliability – Caregivers work largely unsupervised. Hourly caregivers can run into all manner of obstacles in getting to and from their assignment locations and excuses abound. Prior references will provide clues as to whether or not they can be relied upon. Take this seriously but not too seriously. References can provide a measure of what will happen when you are not around but a lot of people are reluctant to disclose negative characteristics about former caregivers. They are unwilling to expose themselves to possible recrimination and often don’t want to harm someone’s chance to make a living.
- Accountability – How a person accepts criticism is usually a reliable indication of whether or not they feel responsible for their patient. Anyone who cannot admit past mistakes should be viewed with suspicion. Caregivers who place blame for things that go wrong everywhere but themselves are not to be trusted. It may be natural to avoid blame but responsible people do accept responsibility.
- Honesty – Honesty doesn’t just mean that they do not steal from helpless old people or their families. It means they show up on time, handle their responsibilities accurately and can usually account for things such as drugs, supplies and monies entrusted to them. Where live-in caregivers are concerned, it also means they arrange for time off and return according to the schedule they agree to, giving adequate notice and not playing games to make relievers look bad in order to assure their own job security.
- Financial Need – We have a natural repulsion for caregivers who openly acknowledge they are doing this work because they need money. We have a tendency to assume it means they do not care about the loved one. However, judging a person who does this work for money is not necessarily a good gauge as to their aptitude. After all, most of us hold jobs because we have to pay the bills. This is not something to be upset about. If you are paying an aide privately, then you have taken on the responsibility for managing that person and continually negotiating their compensation. Unless they continually push, don’t be surprised or offended if they try to negotiate for more money.
So what makes a good caregiver? It is a set of intrinsic qualities that certain human beings possess and others do not. It is all about personality and how that personality fits with the patient and the members of their family. It’s just as simple and just as complicated as that.