Characteristics and Abilities of a Good Caregiver

In response to Joy Johnson’s post (See below):  5 required skills for the toughest job in the world / LinkedIn

I was primary caregiver for my mother-in-law. After my responsibility ended, I wrote a book about caregiving: “What to Do about Mama?” by Barbara G. Matthews and Barbara Trainin Blank. As stated in Chapter Ten:

We are addressing here the characteristics and abilities of a good caregiver, under the premise that if you are a caregiver, these are qualities you may well already embody. And, if indeed, you feel you are lacking in some of them, we recommend that you work on developing them. They are attributes that not only facilitate performing your caregiving responsibilities but also can potentially enrich all your relationships.

1. Love, care, and compassion: First of all, and perhaps most importantly, caregivers have the ability to love, to care, and to have compassion. If you lacked these qualities, you probably wouldn’t be in the position of caregiving.

2. Commitment to family: Beyond the ability to love, caregivers have a strong commitment to family—and that family may include not only the nuclear family, but also extended family and in-laws.

3. Problem-solving: It’s important to know how to identify a problem, consider solutions, develop a plan of action, and put that plan into practice with determination and a “can-do” attitude. If they don’t have the knowledge needed, caregivers do not hesitate to research and discover how to solve problems.

4. Application of knowledge and skills: Caregivers often have a good base of knowledge from their professional or volunteer experiences in various caregiving or human services fields. Caregivers use what they know or learn to be better caregivers. They secure needed goods and services and advocate with healthcare professionals and institutions.

5. Strong work ethic: Caregivers wear many hats in executing their caregiving duties. They accomplish this vast array of tasks by being focused, consistent, and willing to carry through with their commitments.

6. Understand how much they can handle. Look beyond the current situation and anticipate how the demands of caregiving will increase as the care receiver becomes more debilitated. Make sure you consider your ability to handle future burdens. Caregivers must know how to set boundaries and request support whenever they find they are unable to deal with a situation or challenge on their own.

7. Effective communication. Caregivers communicate honestly and openly with all who are involved in the caregiving arrangement.

8. Ability to empower and facilitate. Caregivers respect the care receiver’s abilities and encourage independence. They provide the support needed for the care receiver to participate in life activities as fully as possible.

Barbara Matthews

The Memories Project

I’ve been writing some articles on the LinkedIn platform. When I was brainstorming content ideas, it struck me how many common workplace skills are needed when serving as a family caregiver. Of course, there are many more new skills that you will be required to learn on the fly! In my LinkedIn piece, I highlight five skills I found invaluable while serving as a family caregiver and patient advocate.

holding hands

You can check out my piece here:

5 required skills for the toughest job in the world | LinkedIn.

What skills do you find most helpful as you carry out your caregiving duties? What new skills were the most difficult to learn in order to be a successful caregiver?

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Hospice: When Should They Get Involved?

“When do you know to call in Hospice?” This question appeared as an AgingCare Daily Question:

  • My mom has Dementia and is becoming very tired and is starting to not want to eat. She sometimes hides her food I give her so she can throw it away after. She is using her walker and does do some things for herself but that would only be to maybe wash a few dishes or go to the bathroom. If I tell her we are going out for a drive or a walk she is excited about that but to get her there is exhausting for her. She is 90 and otherwise very healthy…..

When I was primary caregiver for my mother-in-law, I belonged to a support group that was run through a local hospice. Our experience with hospice is well documented throughout my book, “What to Do about Mama?”

  •  “The women that run the group stressed that hospice loves to be able to help people live their life as fully as possible—that their mission is much greater than providing comfort to people on their deathbed.” (p. 20)
  • “A hospice group supplied my mother-in-law with a transport chair so I could get her out of the house to go to the senior center, and with travel oxygen so she could go to the beach with her daughter. In other words, although hospice eases the process of dying, it also facilitates and encourages the process of living.” (p. 81)

Keep in mind that a terminal diagnosis is a hospice requirement (with a life expectancy of 6-12 months). However, many people remain on hospice well-beyond that timeframe. I have even heard of cases with a diagnosis of “failure to thrive,” rather than something more specific like cancer.   It certainly does not hurt to speak to the doctor about hospice. He or she will let you know when the time is appropriate, and it never hurts to look ahead and be prepared.

Barbara Matthews