6 Traits of a Good In-Home Caregiver

Knowledge, commitment and an ability to find joy are among the attributes of an effective professional caregiver.

Posted in , Jun 24, 2020

An in-home caregiver smiling at her client.

When Brenda Avadian took on her dad’s dementia care more than 20 years ago, she was determined to do one thing: make the experience for both of them positive and even joyful. With that experience grew her work as an author and national spokesperson for family and professional caregivers, and gems of wisdom like her Diamond Tip for caregivers. “The Golden Rule doesn’t take it far enough,” Avadian of The Caregiver’s Voice, told Guideposts.org. “This takes it one step further: Care for your loved one the way you would want to be cared for if you were living with the same disease.”

Although the advice is directed to family caregivers, it applies to professional caregivers as well. An ability to see things through the eyes of another is a key trait that may drive a person to consider a job as an in-home caregiver—sometimes even after a loved one has passed from dementia or another illness—and according to Avadian, it’s a necessary component to doing the job well. “It requires getting into the other person’s head, life and desires—the sort of person who can focus on other people. It takes putting yourself in that person’s life. It’s people who are willing to raise the compassionate quotient,” she said.

But there’s more. You may be considering a job as a caregiver, but are not be sure whether the job suits you or you are suited to it. Avadian has outlined a few traits that she believes all good professional in-home caregivers should have:

1. Knowledge of the disease or condition
“Go online and research—first step,” Avadian said. If you’re exploring a caregiving job for someone who has dementia, for example, you need to know what to expect. “A person with end stage dementia may lash out at them, and they’re like ‘Whoa!’ What’s going on here?’” Even though a good agency will offer on-going training, gaining an understanding at the outset of the stages of the disease and the behaviors that can accompany them will give you an idea of whether the job is for you.

Some of the best professional dementia caregivers can be former family caregivers, Avadian said. “They are ideal because they’ve seen it firsthand. They want to do it out of compassion and continue to honor their late parent’s or spouse’s memory. But if they’ve been the primary caregiver, they should take a bit of a break first.”

2. A nurturing nature
“When that caregiver knocks on the door and the person opens the door, or whoever’s in the household opens the door, it lights up that person’s life,” she said. In Avadian’s case, friends helped her care for her dad in her home. One was a woman whose father had died. She loved caring for Avadian’s dad because he reminded her of her own dad. “People become caregivers for a host of reasons, and you just don’t know what people’s journeys are,” Avadian said.

Although caring friends or family members can be a great help, agencies are recommended for various reasons, she said. They are bonded, for one thing, and when a caregiver is sick or otherwise unable to come to work, they make sure to send another. During an interview with a prospective caregiver, however, the family caregiver should ask questions to determine compatibility, she said. “They need to ask, ‘Why do you want to be a caregiver?’ Their loved one might like to have ice cream in the afternoons, so they might ask the caregiver, ‘Do you like ice cream?’ ‘Oh, I love ice cream!’ and ‘My mom loves ice cream too! So, you two can make it fun.’”

3. Commitment to care
“These are logistics that have nothing to do with hands-on caregiving, but they’re critical,” Avadian said. “It’s important to be there on time. What if the family caregiver has a job and is waiting for that in-home caregiver to come over and relieve him or her?” A good professional caregiver also needs to communicate with the agency well. If there’s any sort of problem making it impossible or difficult to get to work, that needs to be made clear immediately to both the family and the agency.

4. The support of a good agency
Regardless of how good the caregiver may be, the impact is either enhanced or weakened by the effectiveness of the agency, she said. Good agency leaders act well as a liaison between the caregiver and the family. “So, when the family calls and says, ‘The caregiver didn’t show up this morning and I need to leave for work at 8:15, a good leader says, ‘There will be a caregiver at your home within 15 minutes,’ and then follows up with the person who didn’t show up, and maybe teaches that person communication skills.”

Staffing issues are even more of a challenge now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Avadian said. It’s important to discuss with an agency you are considering working for their on-going safety protocols for Covid-19.

5. A willingness to take respite
Caregiving takes energy. “You have to take care of yourself to have the energy,” she said. Caregivers have to learn to take respite. “They may say, ‘No, no, I’ll come in, I’ll work overtime, I’ll substitute for this person … and then they grow exhausted, they get sick and they’re out.” Everyone needs a break.

6. An ability to find joy and positivity in a challenging situation
A good caregiver has to be able to overcome negativity, she said. “With my father, I wanted to make it fun, to find joy and positivity, and it was a challenge. I wanted to always see a smile on his face,” said Avadian, who wrote a two-volume series of books, Finding the Joy in Alzheimer’s.

Avadian remembers putting herself in her dad’s shoes when he’d get confused and repeatedly ask the same questions: “Who are you?” “Well, I’m actually your daughter.” “You are?? You’re supposed to be small.” “Well, I am kind of small in the whole scheme of things, but I’ve kind of grown up, as well.” Or, “Where’s Ma?” Rather than remind her dad that her mother had died, Avadian would say something like, “You know what? You said you were hungry so she went to the store and she’s going to make us dinner.”

Staying positive and upbeat is a way to honor and treasure the person you’re caring for, she said. “We can be really negative, and then the people we care for will be miserable, or we can have fun. Don’t we have a choice?”

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