How to be an Involved Caregiver

July 23, 2019

Our caregivers work hard so that our clients may have the highest quality of life as possible while in their care. Being an efficient caregiver requires learning strategies for planning, problem-solving, and for taking care of yourself. Studies show that caregivers - whether they are home health aides or family members - are at high risk of burnout, stress-related illness, depression, fatigue, and even loss of friends and strained family relations if they do not look after their own health and well-being. 

Caring for someone who has a chronic illness or disease, helping them bathe, dress, and keeping their environment clean and healthy requires a level of strength and stamina that many are unaware of. Even a seemingly simple task like accompanying a client to a doctor’s visit can be exhausting if the caregiver does not take the proper steps to prepare themselves as well as the person in their care for all the details involved in such a task. 

Taking this into account, how does one find the energy, let alone the mindset, needed to be an involved caregiver? 

The first step is to take care of yourself first. We’ve all heard the iconic quote: “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” The beginning of this quote from Eleanor Brownn goes like this: “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.” 

This ideology is essential when it comes to caregiving. To dedicate your life to the service of others places you in an extremely vulnerable position. It is a must if you truly want to be the best caregiver you can be, that you take care of yourself first in order to do your job with compassion and empathy. This is the role of a caregiver. Below, are a few tips on how you can (and should) take care of yourself is you are caring for others:

Take a real break

Far too often, caregivers will use their time off to run errands and handle chores of their own. While this is inevitable it is just as important to schedule time, even if only an hour or two, to just relax and de-stress. 

  • Take a bubble bath
  • Have a cup of tea and thumb through a magazine 
  • Read a book 
  • Take a nap
  • Soak your feet while watching your favorite show

Another great way to de-stress is to write down everything that troubled you throughout the week then crumple up that piece of paper and throw it away. You’d be amazed at how refreshing that can be.

Now that you know how to self-care, you’re ready to become a better home health aide. The key here is to find that fine line between being an asset to your client and not a crutch. If your client can’t live without you and gets upset when you leave for the day, that is a sure sign that you need to step back and reevaluate what you are doing to cause this reaction. Here are a few dos and don’ts towards becoming a more involved (but not overly involved) caregiver:

DO be patient and respectful.

It is important, no matter what the reason they need your help, that your client or loved one feel they are in control. Let them make their own choices (link to communication and choice) make suggestions but not demands. But most of all, be extremely patient with them. If you show signs of impatience they will certainly pick up on your demeanor, whether you believe they do or not. If it takes them 2 minutes to decide if they want orange juice or cranberry juice with their lunch, then wait those 2 minutes for them as patiently as possible.

DON’T say “No”

I know what you’re thinking, “but sometimes I have to say no.” I guarantee, you don’t. There is always a creative way around saying the word “No”. For example, your loved one wants to get out of his/her wheelchair by themselves. Instead, of saying “no”, let them know you will be right there to help, just in case. Or, your client would like to eat independently, but you fear they will make a huge mess. Instead of saying “no”, lay a towel or large cloth on their lap and use a senior bib so they can enjoy their meal freely. Clean up will be easy and your client will feel accomplished. 

DO contact other family members as often as you can.

Many seniors experience a sense of grief or loneliness when they do not receive personal visits from their extended family. A great way to remedy this is to speak to your client’s proxy and put together a list of people you can call on a cell phone or video chat for 5 minutes once or twice a week. If you come up with 4 names, they each only need to accept a call once a month and your client gets to see a familiar face or hear a familiar voice once a week. This can potentially lift their spirits significantly for the rest of the week. And the more names you can get on that list the bigger the impact you may have on your client’s quality of life.

DON’T forget to listen

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the items we need to check off our to-do list that we forget to truly stop and listen. Try adding this to your list of daily tasks: 15 minutes of listening. By scheduling just 15 minutes a day to sit with your loved one or client and listen to what they have to say, you could make a world of a difference in their overall care. When you listen, you can become aware of a potential ailment or illness that you can talk about with their proxy or even their physician. You can also learn more about their likes and dislikes, for example, if they prefer carrots over peas or lemon over lime. These details can escape us if we don’t take the time to listen.

In short, caring for yourself so that you can better care for others make s world of difference in the quality of care you are able to give to your client or loved one. As a home health aide your primary responsibility is to see to the well-being of your client. By learning ways to become an involved caregiver without being overbearing is a crucial part of being a professional and efficient caregiver.

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