There are a few things that I’d like to share with you. I believe that you want the best possible care for your loved one, and so do we, the caregivers. There seem to be some common misconceptions surrounding the role of caregivers, and I’d like to clarify those and implore you to do a few things differently. Here is a list of things we caregivers wish the families of our clients understood:
1-We are humans. Please treat us with the same respect that you do other people you meet. We do a lot of undignified things by choice to maintain the cleanliness, wellbeing and comfort of your loved one. This does not mean we are servants, or that we are somehow less than you. Please do not whistle for us, ring a bell for us, or have separate chairs/cups/silverware for us. Caregiving is not contagious.
2-Following up point number one, the reason we sometimes smell like human bodily fluids is because your loved one recently had an accident and we have cleaned it up. Smells unfortunately tend to linger. This is not some weird ‘caregiver perfume’ or a reflection of our personal hygiene. It bothers us even more than it bothers you, however for the sake of your loved one’s pride, we act like we don’t even notice. Please don’t act so shocked when we run into you out in public and we are well groomed and we smell good. We like to be clean just like everyone else.
3- If you plan to be around very often, please learn our name and get to know us a little bit. If we know your preferences and your personality, we will be better able to prepare your loved one and their home for your visit. We really want to foster good relationships between our client and their family.
4-Please don’t stop spending time with your loved one just because they have a caregiver to meet their physical needs now. Elderly and disabled people have the same social needs as everyone else. As caregivers we know that part of our role is to provide company for our clients, and we are happy to visit with them while we work. We cannot replace the role of family members in this way however. I know that it can seem bothersome or inconvenient to spend time with people when their physical or mental ability is limited, so here are some suggestions of things to do with your family member: Take them for a drive – most of my clients love getting out of the house to just go sight-seeing. Watch a sunset from the car. Go through a drive in and have a car-picnic overlooking a pretty park or a view of the water. Go look at Christmas lights in nearby neighborhoods on an evening near Christmas. Spend time looking at old pictures and reminiscing. Ask them to supervise you as you learn to cook something that is traditional for your family. Play music and sing old songs with them. Watch a movie together. Bring them dinner and eat together. Please spend time with your loved ones. Feel free to let us do the work of caregiving and just come visit to enjoy spending quality time together. Please tell us if there is something we can do to help your family member get ready for an outing or an event that you have planned. (We are pretty good at getting people into a state of mind to enjoy a specific activity – feel free to utilize this. Most caregivers have at least one of the following talents: charm, pleading, coaxing or manipulating. Don’t hate us for this. If we didn’t have these skills, your mother would never bathe, go to medical appointments, or eat vegetables. It’s true.)
5- If you have emotionally charged bad news to share with your loved one, please do so in person rather than over the phone if at all possible. It’s always better if someone who understands the issue can be there to support and grieve together. If it’s not possible to do this, please at least give us a summary of the situation prior to telling your loved one so we can support them with understanding. It’s exceptionally difficult to console distraught people when you have no idea what the situation is.
6-If your loved one has any level of memory loss, please do not assume that any messages you leave for us will get to us. Please contact us directly, or through the agency we work for if you have anything important to tell us. This is especially important for pertinent medical information, schedule changes, and any specific tasks you are requesting that we complete.
7- I think I speak for many of us when I say this: We sincerely love it when your whole clan descends upon your loved one’s house and decorates it festively from top to bottom for the upcoming holiday IF AND ONLY IF we know you will return PROMPTLY to take all the beautiful decorations down and place them back in their designated storage area after the holiday is over. We realize that it only took you all 3 hours to decorate, so it may not seem like a big deal to leave it for us. However, there were 20 of you and there is one caregiver. It takes a very long time for one person to remove decorations from very large houses that have been fully decked out. My time would be better spent caring for your loved one. That is my job.
8-If your loved one has dementia or any form of memory loss, please don’t feel obligated to remind them of the anniversary of sad occasions. Memory loss has very few perks; but forgetting about the sad things in life is one of them. Please don’t destroy their happiness. If you want to honor them in some way on these anniversaries, send some flowers with a message “We are thinking of you. We love you.” Or spend some time with them doing something they enjoy. There are ways to honor people without bringing back forgotten grief. I don’t think it’s fair to be reminded of the dark when you have also forgotten the sunshine.
9-Please understand that we usually will not consider your loved one a member of our family. In most cases, yes, we truly love and care about your family member. In some cases we even consider them a friend and we are glad to spend time with them. I am just going to be honest and say this though. We do not love scrubbing poop out of upholstery and vomit out of shag carpets. We do not love being belittled, yelled at and sometimes scratched and hit because your loved one is displacing their anger and frustration upon us. We do not love the backaches that happen after we lift people repetitively and bend to scrub floors and wash toilets, so please, do not make condescending statements like “oh, you are so very lucky to have the privilege of working with my mom! You must be so grateful. A more saintly woman has never walked this earth!” While I am sincerely glad you have this wonderful view of your aging parent, my perspective is probably different. I have seen the good, the bad, the smelly, the unpleasant, and the downright mean in this person and I still choose to gently care for them with compassion and respect. This professional relationship is beneficial for all of us.
10-Please be willing to have more than one caregiver on a weekly basis. I will give you a hint here: being flexible with having multiple caregivers almost guarantees better care for your loved one. The reason why is this: if we are good at our job, we are usually kept quite busy because clients get attached to us. Often the best caregivers only have one shift or one day available for new clients at any given time. Insisting that you have the same caregiver all week long as soon as you begin services will mean you get: a) a caregiver not in high demand at all – usually there is a reason for this. Or b) a caregiver that is brand new to the agency and was hired specifically to fill your requested schedule. Having multiple caregivers also ensures that when one of us goes on vacation or gets sick, there are others who know the routine and can readily be a substitute.
11-I saved one of my most important points for last here. Please, please, please advocate for your elderly family member; especially if they are timid about sticking up for themselves or if they are no longer verbally communicative. Share relevant information with us! Is your loved one vegetarian? Would they like to be reminded to observe religious holidays? Are they Autistic and there are certain patterns/noises/textures that upset them? When is their birthday? Do they love certain foods? Are they more comfortable with only same-sex caregivers helping with bathing? Does it upset them if certain items in their home are moved around? Whatever this person’s values, preferences and opinions might be, knowing them will enable us to give them the best care possible, and that is really our goal.
The best caregiving happens when families are willing to stay on board and work with the caregiver as a team. Our job and our goal is to provide your loved one with the best possible care. We genuinely care about their wellbeing and we want them to be healthy, happy, and safe. Caregivers are human too. Please be patient with us and be grateful when we go above and beyond our job description. Be understanding when we don’t smell the best. Please be considerate of our feelings. Please communicate with us so that we can do our best to care for our clients. We will be so grateful.