Debby Bitticks’ father-in-law was in a bad caregiver situation until she and her husband 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 in a top caregiver:
1. 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.”
“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.”
3. 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 home care agencies in Ann Arbor, Mich.
4. 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.”
5. 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 time talking about their personal issues and challenges adds to the emotional burden of the older adult who may feel compelled to help them,” says Diane Keefe, former president of A Plus Aging Advantage, a geriatric care company.
6. 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.