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Becoming a caregiver may be a role you never saw yourself in. But now a family member or loved one is depending on you for their care. Are you wondering if you are the right type of person for this role?
What are the traits you will need to be to be a good caregiver?
The most essential quality is one you already have. The ability to care for a loved one and the willingness to dedicate part of your life to ensure their well being starts you off on the right track to becoming a good caregiver.
Keep in mind that not everything will be perfect when caring for a loved one, but try to be open to the experience. The other traits that you will need are ones that you will learn through hard work and perseverance. The job of being a caregiver will teach you more than you can imagine. It will be hard. But the rewards of being present for a loved one in their most vulnerable state is immeasurable. Not just for the person you are caring for, but for who it will shape you to be.
Research lists the top five traits that good caregivers have. But be encouraged, these are not traits you are born with these are skills that you learn along the way.1
Compassion is defined as trying to understand what the other person is experiencing and responding to that. Angil Tarach-Ritchey, a famous seniors advocate, calls this trait empathy.2 Some people are born with higher levels of empathy. But you can develop this trait by asking yourself how you would want to be treated and cared for in a similar circumstance.
One of the most powerful ways to activate your own natural empathy and compassion is to make a point of making gentle and friendly eye contact.3 Looking into another person’s eyes increases your level of empathy and draws two people together.
Nobody is born with patience! Patience is the ability to stay calm when things take longer than you want. The good news is that patience is something you develop by practicing the skill.4
Caring for someone with dementia or a degenerative disease will give you plenty of opportunities to slow down and practice patience. Make a point of allowing extra time for all activities so that the slow movements of aching joints or the repetitive questions won’t make you feel rushed for time.
Take a long, slow breath in, hold it for a second and then blow it out. This triggers your body to relax and not view the situation as a time to panic. Practicing patience while caregiving will allow you to remain calm and better address behavioral changes.
Your loved one is relying on you. Being dependable is hard if you are used to being independent. Make a plan to follow through on your plans and activities. If you say you will help by providing your loved one with a ride to the doctor’s, then write it down, put a reminder on your phone and show up 10 minutes early.
Day to day routines are the easiest way to demonstrate your reliability. Together with your loved one set up a daily, weekly and monthly routine. When you and your loved one know that Wednesday is the day for grocery shopping and every morning after nine you will call to check in, it builds a sense of trust and reliability.5
Connect your caring routines to activities you already do without thinking. For example, put a sticky note on your coffee pot that says, “call Mom”. Every morning when you start your coffee it will remind you to also call your Mom.
Once you think you have a good routine established, things will change! One of the biggest challenges in caregiving is being reliable and flexible. Moods, care needs, abilities and behaviors can throw your routines off track. You will be exercising your empathy and patience muscles once again.
Make this your mantra: “my loved one is not being difficult to frustrate me, my loved one is having a difficult day.” Then slow down, take a deep breath, let your shoulders relax and ask yourself what is the most important part of this day. You might find that the answer is “to be here with my loved one.” Then make gentle eye contact, find a smile and kind words. Today might be a day to say “this is taking longer than we thought, isn’t it? Let’s skip the outing and listen to some music together this afternoon instead.”
Being a caregiver to a family member will push you to the limits of what you think you can do. But then you take a day off and find that you have the ability to keep going. The hard work, like exercise, is making you stronger and building the traits in you that make you an excellent caregiver.
But remember you are not alone and you do not need to do it all. Asking for help is a necessary trait for caregiving. Accepting a hand allows you to take a bit of time to recuperate and rest your caregiving muscles. So you can continue to be the loving, empathetic, patient, dependable, flexible caregiver you want to be.