Seniors: 6 Traits Every Caregiver Should Have

elderly woman with granddaughter

You've narrowed down your search to a few wonderful people, but still aren't quite sure who the right one is. We talked with experts to get the six qualities your caregiver should have.

Debby Bitticks' father-in-law was in a bad caregiver situation until she and her husband rescued him and brought him home. Now Bitticks, producer of the documentary Saving Our Parents, is sharing her knowledge with the world. Her two favorite traits: kindness and compassion. "This lets the person feel safe and understood by the caregiver," Bitticks says. "It protects a person's dignity."

Here are six other characteristics to look for:

  • Willing to sit still. "A caregiver has to just 'be' sometimes, just sit and touch the older person's hand," says Kari Berit, author of The Unexpected Caregiver: How Boomers Can Keep Mom & Dad Active, Safe and Independent. "They shouldn't feel like they have to fix something all the time. Sometimes, they just get to know the older person's history."
  • Flexibility. "If you or the next shift is running behind, would that be a problem for them?" says registered nurse Diane Carbo, founder of aginghomehealthcare.com. "There are many elderly who are confused and cannot be left alone for even a few minutes. A gap in the schedule could mean someone with dementia leaving the stove on or a diabetic eating the wrong type of food. There are many more stories of individuals calling 9-1-1 for help because they were left alone, then knocking on neighbors' doors, frightened and lost."
  • Pays attention. The doctor isn't seeing the older person every day, so it's often the caregiver that has to notice changing skin color, perhaps, or facial expressions, or how much food she's eating. Even if you've found someone who doesn't have medical training, "observing changes and getting the care recipient seen by a physician early can avoid serious illness, and helps keep the recipient in optimal health," says Angil Tarach-Ritchey RN, GCM, owner of Visiting Angels, a network of homecare agencies in Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Not afraid to sing. In other words, are they comfortable stepping out of their shell? "You have to get out of your own self and your own ego, and do things you are uncomfortable doing," Berit says. "For example, you might take them out to a restaurant and they are a sloppy eater. You have to let go of that. It is what it is."
  • Drama-free. You know that person who always seems to have something going wrong in their life? She's not the ideal person to care for your mom or dad. "There is absolutely no way the caregiver should bring their problems and drama to their care giving," Tarach-Ritchey says. There's a powerful reason why: "A caregiver who spends too much timetalking about their personal issues and challenges adds to the emotional burdenof theolder adult who may feel compelled to help them," says Diane Keefe, former president of A Plus Aging Advantage, a geriatric care company.
  • Similar hobbies. Is your dad a NASCAR fan? How perfect would it be if the caregiver is, too? We know that can't always happen in a perfect world, but finding a commonality will make the process much, much easier.
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Comments (38)
Theresa
I personally came from a family of eight children , I never ever heard my mother complain so this was instilled , she made many of outfits by hand, patients was learned,she would have us help each other when needed and not before, it taught us how to observe and listen. Mom showed us how to show love and understanding.Mom let us help in the kitchen it taught us a lot of rules,and to do things with care and love. I can go on but , all this to say , from my up bringing and helping neighbors of all ages helped me to see where my calling was for years. A living so deserves quality of life.
Posted: July 20, 2014 at 11:19 AM
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Gina H.
I have recently come off a case that was a great fit as most great caregivers do adapt to their clients and surroundings that always smile. My friend as she will remain nameless had a bit of a sense of humor . Her wit left me smiling most days . She liked rides in my car , a jeep that she had to get into with the help of me and a stool. Ha ha she made me laugh every day. Great caregivers usually become dear friends with the folks they care for as in this case and many more that I have had the pleasure of caring for.
Posted: July 20, 2014 at 1:36 AM
Marylynn J.
Thanks for the input!I know I really do have what it takes to be a great caregiver..as all these tips have already been instilled in me. As I have been a caregiver to my husbands 100 yr old gramma, and my own parents. And of course my 19 years of being an EMT, I have held a hand or two of some elderly patients that were frightened by the events that were taking place. Heck, I would even maybe sing..I have actually gone Christmas caroleling at our local nursing home and to some local homes where there were terminally ill people there..we weren't very good..but it was the thought that counts and I even know a little about NASCAR!
Posted: July 14, 2014 at 10:56 PM
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Mustafa M.
That love to sing part cracked me up, I don't think anyone wants me to sing
Posted: June 24, 2014 at 9:20 AM
Laura M.
Good article and I think I possess most of these traits;
the article will help me in my new position with a elderly woman with Alzheimers that I accepted just today :-)
Posted: March 25, 2014 at 4:19 PM
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Sennora B.
Great write up and very informative. I agree with it all and the most amazing thing to me is being able to spending time with "wisdom". It's a great thing to soak it up, embrace it, enjoy it and love on it while you can.
Posted: March 09, 2014 at 12:16 AM
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Ratu D.
Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.
Posted: February 17, 2014 at 1:13 AM
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Karen B.
Wonderful advice!! Our Seniors deserve nothing but the BEST! I have watched Caregivers in the past send residents out for activities etc. with the same clothes from day before or their hair is matted from sleeping. It breaks my heart to see. As Caregivers it is up to us to continue the Dignity our Seniors deserve.
Posted: February 04, 2014 at 12:02 PM
Laura J.
What woderful advice ! CARGIVING can be difficult if you don't have patients,respect, enjoyment, and family support.Working for a wonderful family at this time I am Bless.
Posted: December 06, 2013 at 9:26 AM
Beverly O.
So true Olivia, I have been a medical assistant for over 20+ years, but not certified. Most of the recent interviews I have been on don't even have the person to care for available. I am very compassionate, caring, and wanting to help others, but have found everyone wants certification? Does my 20+ years working with families not count any more? I'm 55 years old and I'm very discouraged between scams and not finding work available. Thank you for your post. Their are excellent, compassionate, caring, honest caregivers out there!
Posted: August 09, 2013 at 1:06 PM
Susan L.
Being a good listener is great, but alot of times the elderly don't express the things they want or need, you need to use your intuition, which should come naturally to be a GREAT caregiver. You really need to try to anticipate the elderlys wants, needs and desires. I believe in being proactive, the elderly sometimes thinks they would be expecting too much from a caregiver. There is no thing as needing too much in my book.
Posted: June 15, 2013 at 2:04 AM
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Stana H.
I really liked this because as a caregiver you realize each has certain strengths and qualities to bring to the table, but this article helps to pinpoint and to clarify each quality. ty
Posted: May 21, 2013 at 12:49 AM
Beverly O.
I have been a caregiver since I was 12 years old. Every time someone was ill mom would send me over to help. I'm always there to prepare, set up, serve , and clean up at all those Christmas parties, and special occasions. I love people and have enjoyed every client I have ever laughed with, cried with, and just being their for them and they're families. I enjoy what I do and I am blessed for all of the families and friends that have crossed in the past, in the present , and the future because without caregivers, the world would be a dark place. So keep smiling and pass all the love and compassion to others. It must show because I still receive a phone call from an old friend/family member asking for help, advice for a friend, or just to say hello. Keep Smiling because someone, someday will be looking for you, and as usual you are their to listen, help, or just say hello.:)
Posted: April 03, 2013 at 8:25 PM
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Linda W.
great tips, be professional and caring loved the no drama ,nothing like hearing a caregiver complain all day.
Posted: March 25, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Julia R.
I am new to caregiving with Seniors and appreciate the encouragement from the article that i am on the right track as a career. I also appreciate the comments from caregivers themselves. I can relate to the comment about listening to the same stories over & over again and agree that being still and actively listening for a new detail in which to comment about gives both my client and myself the connection that is so precious in creating a nurturing safe haven for them.
Posted: March 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM
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Pamela M.
Caring, love commitment,empathy,sympaty,honesty,nurturing,and just being an advocate for those who can't
Posted: March 24, 2013 at 1:19 PM
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Maritza L.
Maritza:
I like the trait of drama-free. Is very important to remember that they are your clients and you are the caregiver: Be friendly but not be a friend. You don't share your problems and be careful when they share their with you. Is wise to listen is not to judge, to evaluate, or to get involve.
Posted: March 18, 2013 at 5:11 PM
Photo of Maritza L.
Maritza L.
Maritza:
I think that the article is very insightful about the qualities a caregiver should have. I remember a patient told me one time that I was like a chameleon: visible and colorful when I was needed and invisible when I was not. One thing I want to add is the fact that we are not responsible for fixing the dynamics of our patients' lives; we are there to make them feel safe, healthy and secure.
Posted: March 18, 2013 at 5:04 PM
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Tommie H.
Be patient, kind, nurturing, and learn how to be a soothing companion. As mentioned in this article, somethings can't be fixed but cargivers can make the elderly person feel better by being understanding and not alone.
Posted: January 07, 2013 at 7:31 PM
Stanja P.
Thank you for the caregiver qualities article. It definitely is a confirmation that I am on the right track in giving quality care to my clients! Happy holidays all!
Posted: December 01, 2012 at 1:43 AM
Sandia H.
this is excellence advise as a caregive you should make them fill asthough they are part of YOUR family which they are. and people around you will see that as well you have to love what you do its a must
Posted: October 31, 2012 at 5:57 PM
Crystal C.
For the most part these are true statements, but I believe the most important factor is that your loved one feels 110% comfortable with the chosen care giver. And that the care giver makes the client feel at ease with their situation (i.e. telling them its ok that they have wet their self, or that its ok to be takin care of since they have done it their whole life). PATIENCE is number one key factor to working for the elderly, so if that means listening to the same stories everyday like they have never heard them before then so be it. Personally i feel my best when I leave a clients house and they have a smile on their face and are waiting to see me again.
Posted: October 31, 2012 at 1:40 PM
Janis P.
Very informative ,these traits are a must if you plan on staying in this field for any length of time, It is a sad day when we as care givers would loose that compassion to help and guide someone who can not either physically or mentally do for them selves,Sure a paycheck is essential to sustain yourself,but even more essential is to be part of that someones life,and you can feel really feel the difference you have and will keep on having made in their lives,restoring dignity is essential to every human on this planet take your dignity away and what r u left with
Posted: August 26, 2012 at 2:07 AM
Stephanie S.
I really liked the advice about no-drama! I have a tender heart and find myself worried more about the caregiver's situation than my own! Thanks for the reminder!
Posted: June 04, 2012 at 3:13 PM
Olivia B.
A tip I have found is: Don't always pick the certified care-giver over a non-certified care-giver. This doesn't mean anything bad- it just means that if a person is compasionate about what they do, it doesn't take much to properly train someone on how to transfer, or change a brief.(Or care related to your loved one) There are so many care-givers out there that do it just for the paycheck, and then there are others who have more compassion and heart than others, and are not certified. It's helpful to have training with the client prior to being alone anyhow, another helpful hint is to inform care-givers of your loved ones wishes- as in if there is an active DNR. Some of home agencies don't have a policy in place that allow care-givers this information.Just FYI! Hope this helps as well as the other helpful tips above.
Posted: May 29, 2012 at 8:19 PM
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Jeff H.
Thanks for writing this.
Posted: April 02, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Vivian W.
Thanks for the advice....very helpful.
Posted: March 10, 2012 at 2:43 PM
Martha S.
Extremely helpful hints and have run into some of the problems you have mentioned.
Posted: January 28, 2012 at 10:39 AM
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Carol S.
A lot of good advice but most of it you can't tell in the interview process. What happens during an interview isn't always reality and just cause they say its so, doesn't mean it is so.
Posted: October 13, 2011 at 10:18 PM
Wilma H.
Wilma H
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. After caring for my elderly father when he was alive, I understand the vulnerability of the aged and their need to be around caring people. Sometimes just a smile and a kind word, especially spending time with them goes a long way.
Posted: October 09, 2011 at 7:57 PM
Pamela R.
I agree with all of the above. A person has to love what they do to care for another human being. The person you are caring for will always know the difference. Over the years I've seen too many people doing it just for the money.
Posted: October 05, 2011 at 10:34 AM
Photo of Brenda W.
Brenda W.
Love the advice, I'm glad that this was posted for the average caregiver to read. I definitely possess these traits, I simply look at the individual as a family member! Done deal....
Posted: October 04, 2011 at 12:23 AM
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Colleen B.
Without a doubt, treat the individual as caring and understanding as you would want your parent treated!
Posted: August 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM
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Kassie K.
i was a caregiver for over 2.5 years and the best caregivers at my facility had these traits :) very very true!
Posted: August 10, 2011 at 9:09 PM
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Dawn M.
add compassion and they would be great :)
Posted: August 09, 2011 at 10:50 AM
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Tammy O.
Excellent advice that every caregiver should know!!!
Posted: August 04, 2011 at 10:43 AM
Cheryl D.
Sooooo very true!
Posted: July 13, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Susan S.
Very helpful. Susan
Posted: March 19, 2011 at 1:44 PM
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