As the number of people over the age of 80 continues to grow more quickly than the number of people born, there is an increasing need for long-term care options. Many of us are finding ourselves in a position where we will either need to be a family caregiver or hire a professional caregiver. As someone who has dedicated her career to the care of seniors, I am aware of the qualities we can develop in ourselves as family caregivers or look for in professional caregivers to ensure our loved ones are cared for with the dignity and compassion he or she deserves. Here are 7 habits of highly effective caregivers:
- Be proactive, not reactive. Effective caregivers must know and get along with his or her client. Be weary of any home care agency that doesn’t ask for a client’s biography as it can provide an understanding of the personality, values and roles of the person for which he or she will be caring.
- Have a care plan. Begin with the end in mind and know the client’s ultimate care goals. If you are a caregiver, or especially if you plan on hiring a caregiver, it is imperative to have a care plan in place before the start of care. A good care plan outlines not only activities of daily living (ADLs) such as medication reminders, bathing or cooking, but also large-picture goals. Focus on possibilities as opposed to limitations and involve the person receiving care in the discussion.
- Put first things first. Once you have a care plan, prioritize goals. Remember that creating purpose and joy for our clients or loved ones is the ultimate goal, but there is no way to achieve it if the much more basic needs are not being met.
- Think win-win. As a caregiver, there are no shortcuts in providing quality care. Spending 5 to save 20 is a common phrase we use to demonstrate the importance of the caregiving relationship. For example, instead of pushing a loved one to the dining table in a wheelchair, allow your loved one to push it himself or herself, if able. Although this may take longer, it helps maintain strength, preserve dignity and promote conversation instead of a potential argument.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Having someone listen to and understand us does not lessen with age. As a caregiver, understanding your clients’ unique needs and preferences is the best and only way to create trust and provide effective care. Giving time and attention is the greatest way to show someone not only that you care, but also that they matter.
- Synergize and collaborate. Caregivers and loved ones or clients should share their care experiences – It may be common to share problems, but share successes too! By opening communication, caregivers can better cater to the individual’s needs and preferences and have more fun along the way!
- Sharpen the saw. Being a caregiver can be stressful. That’s why it’s important to rememberif you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of someone else. That can be hard to embrace, so I invite you to say it over and over. An effective caregiver is one that understands that they are a human with needs and limits, just like the person they are caring for. You wouldn’t expect a dull saw to cut down a tree effectively, and you can’t expect yourself to be effective as a caregiver if you don’t take the time you need to stay sharp.