What Makes a Good Family Senior Caregiver?
I started thinking about this as I trundled along the streets of Guelph on my way to my parents’ house, enjoying the early spring sunshine. I was reflecting on the changes in my life in the last few years as I transitioned from one job to another, one province to another, and from parenting a child to caring for parents. I was thinking of the shift in responsibilities that I’ve taken on, especially during the pandemic, in an effort to both meet my parents’ increasing needs and to protect them from outside contagion. I was crafting a job description for the “family senior caregiver” in my mind. I quickly realized how different it was than the professional care-giving roles I had once held. I also realized that I had changed in my own skill set from two years ago to the skills I have today. So here goes. Imagine the following want ad:
“ In Search of a Family Senior Caregiver”
- You must be able to lose your sense of time. Rarely will anything happen from now on in the time you think it might, when dealing with your senior family members. This includes everything from decision making to getting dressed. Think about the worst that will happen, if your time goal isn’t achieved. A late fee? A re-booked appointment? A delay moving on to your next task? A cold supper? It’s not the end of the world. Having just said that, always double the amount of time you think a task or preparation will need.
- Can you see and understand the words and actions of your senior loved one(s) in terms of their history and values, their sense of control and the current chaos around them? My parents make great decisions They need information and time to reflect. If I push them to make a decision too quickly, that lack of decision making control rears up, and they become reactive, rather than reflective, and the decision may not be ideal. Also see qualification #1.
- Are you adept at reading the non-verbal language around the spoken words to discover the true meaning of the communication? This one can be trickier for the family caregiver than for outside help, because every negative word you hear from them may be an echo of your past relationship. Flashbacks to childhood and teenage years if dealing with parents, or stressful points in your past marriage if you are dealing with a spouse, are common. Your reactions to these words must be dealt with like a duck deals with water. Let it roll right off your back. Sometimes this is just them reacting to their perceived loss of control. Instead watch their face and body movements and consider the context of the words. Are they upset about something else? Did they sleep well? Have they eaten lately? Are they in pain? We can discern so much more about communication as adults than we did as children.
- You are able to think outside the box. Everyday. All the time. There is an endless opportunity for creative thinking in care-giving. “How can I make this easier for them to be independent?”, “We’ve always done it this way, but does it have to be done this way?”, “ Is there a different way?”,“ How can I get a different perspective on that?”
- You are good at getting out of as much work as you can. Yes, in this job you are always aiming to do as little as possible! Don’t take a task away from a senior that they can manage for themselves, since this will lead to further dependence. Instead see if you can modify or help with just part of the task.
- Proficiency at delegating work is your strength. See point 6. Care-giving work increases over time and you’re the main/only caregiver. Time to tap into close by and distant relatives and friends. The distant ones can help with work done online such as paying bills or banking. The near by ones can give you a bit of respite, drive to appointments, pick up groceries or make meals. What mundane tasks can be hired out for? Housekeeping? Grounds maintenance? Car maintenance? Laundry? If costs start to add up, just remind yourself you are in this for the long term and you don’t want to get sick or injured. And even with hiring out some jobs, it’s still a lot cheaper than a nursing home.
- You’re super skilled at setting your own healthy boundaries. Yes,you are there for them, but your needs are just as important and deserve to be met too. Sometimes caregiver forget this.
- And finally, and most importantly, you are perfect at sharing as much non-task oriented family time as possible. This is the reward for you and so important for them. As you relax and listen to well known family stories, share memories or you all start laughing at the same time at a joke on the radio, you realize that there is no replacement for your role as family caregiver. You also realize that as challenging as the job is, you wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Are you in the process of becoming a family senior caregiver? Are you just about to bring someone home from the hospital or a care home? I’ve developed a resource based on my professional background and personal experiences just for you! In it you will move from feeling unsure and overwhelmed at the thought of transitioning your senior loved one from professional care to your care to feeling confident, supported and organized. Drop me a message if you are interested, and I will put you on my pre-release notification list!