Being a great caregiver takes a combination of compassion, skill, knowledge, and experience. If you’re new to the job, there are certain things you need to do and to know before you can truly excel at this profession. 

If you’ve been a caregiver for many years, you may have all the skills and knowledge that you need to be a great caregiver for others, but you may need to learn how to take care of yourself to avoid burnout. To be truly great as a caregiver, you have to be able to take care of yourself as a part of the job description.

What are the qualities of a good caregiver?

The caregiving profession requires a certain set of qualities and traits. Some of these personal characteristics can be developed over time through practice and experience. They include:

●       Empathy

Empathy comes more naturally to some people than it does to others. Empathy is the ability to understand what others are feeling. When you’re providing care to another person, if you imagine what it would feel like to be them, you are working with empathy. The desire to treat other people the way that you would want to be treated if you were in their situation is an important trait for a caregiver.

●       Compassion

As a caregiver, you may find that your clients are sometimes difficult to understand. Their behaviors may not always make sense to you. Compassion and understanding are closely related to empathy in that they may involve putting yourself into the other person’s shoes. But even without empathy, compassion is the ability to feel concern and love toward those who are suffering.

●       Patience

Providing care to people who are older or disabled often involves moving more slowly and waiting for the patient to perform the tasks they are able to do by themselves. Sometimes patients will feel angry or frustrated about their inability to perform their activities of daily activities by themselves. In these situations, the patient may become angry with the caregiver. Patience will help you remain calm in situations such as these rather than becoming angry in response.

●       Reliability and dependability

Dependable and reliable caregivers are always in high demand! Dependability is a character-trait that demonstrates that you truly care all the time, not just when it’s convenient for you.

●       Trustworthiness

A caregiver who is warm and patient but untrustworthy isn’t likely to go very far in this profession! A great caregiver knows how to keep information confidential. They keep valuables safe including medications and property and they don’t betray their patient’s trust.

●       Balanced

As a caregiver you must be able to balance priorities as well as balancing your caregiving of others with taking care of yourself.

How can I become a good caregiver?

Becoming a good caregiver takes practice and experience as well as training and education. Many caregivers start with education. There are a number of classes available for prospective caregivers from in-person certification courses to online personal-development courses. Your state or the organization you wish to work for may have certain educational requirements for caregiving.

Training typically comes after education and often, it takes place on-the-job. A good caregiver knows how to take care of the patient using techniques that account for the patient’s needs. A bed-bound patient will require that you know how to change the sheets while they’re still in the bed. 

A blind patient will require that the caregiver keep a tidy house that maintains clear walkways and sensible organization in the spaces in use by the patient. Caregivers who aren’t already experienced with working with patients who have specific needs take the time to learn about those needs and how to provide the best care based on these patients’ needs.

Gaining experience and practice should be ongoing after a caregiver starts working with patients. Every patient provides a new opportunity for caregivers to learn something new. As caregivers work with more and more patients over the years, they develop a level of expertise that simply isn’t possible for those who are new in the field. 

As a hands-on profession, caregiving provides the opportunity for new experiences every day that will help the caregiver evolve and develop additional skills.

What training should I take?

There are a variety of different education and training options available for caregivers. 

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification is often necessary for caregivers to work in this field, but other state requirements vary in terms of caregiver certification courses. Check with your state’s department of health to find out what the training requirements are for caregivers in your area. Some agencies and nursing facilities or assisted living facilities have specific requirements for training as a condition of employment as well.

The American Caregiver Association offers a number of caregiver courses including a certification program that has become the National Standard in the United States. The Advanced National Caregiver Certification Course (ANCCC) is a 120-hour program that can be completed virtually or in-person.

What skills should I have?

Caregiving is a job with many complexities and layers, and having the right skills is extremely important for success. Great caregivers have the following skills:

●       Effective time management – Caregiving requires that you successfully take care of your patient, and also that you take care of yourself and your personal responsibilities too. In order to do this you must have excellent time management skills so that you can do what you need to do each day without feeling like you’re rushing to fit it all in.

●       Cleanliness and organizational skills – Keeping things clean and organized is essential as a caregiver. Your patient is unlikely to be able to keep their home and environment well organized, so you need to have a keen eye for cleanliness. You may also be helping care for your patients’ personal hygiene through baths and dressing, so attention to cleanliness is important in this respect too.

●       Physical strength and stamina – As a caregiver, you may sometimes have to move or help move your patient from place to place. It’s also likely that you’ll spend a large portion of the day up on your feet moving around. Thus, a certain amount of physical strength and stamina are important to have as caregivers.

●       Excellent communication skills – Caregiving is a job that requires top-notch communication abilities. Not only will you need to be able to communicate calmly and clearly with your patient, but you may also need to be able to communicate with doctors and nurses. Some patients do not have good communication abilities, so your skills in this area will need to be good enough that you can work through many communication mediums to foster understanding between yourself and your patient.

How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout to Continue Being a Great Caregiver

Being a caregiver can be a heavy burden, and a lot of caregivers reach a point where they start to feel “burnt out”. Signs of burnout include feelings of frustration with the person you are caring for, general anxiety, social withdrawal, irritability, difficulty concentrating, depression, exhaustion, health problems, and more. These symptoms can be detrimental not only to the caregiver, but also to the patient under certain circumstances.

Because burnout can be extremely uncomfortable for caregivers and it can be difficult to reset after reaching burnout, it’s important to understand the ways to avoid burnout in the first place. Here are some ways to take care of yourself so that you can continue providing excellent, high quality care for those you love:

●       Take a break – Taking a few hours to yourself to go out with friends, visit the salon, or go for a walk can be a great way to “reboot”. In addition, spending quality time with people other than the person you are caring for is often an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety associated with caregiving. Ask a reliable friend or family member if they would be willing to fill in for you sometimes so you can relax.

●       Join a support group – It’s natural to experience a whole array of emotions while you’re doing your job as a caregiver for your loved one, and a caregiver support group is one of the best places to go if you need a place to talk about and explore these emotions and the thoughts that go with them. Support groups are available so that caregivers may vent some of their stresses, work through issues with the help of others, and receive advice from caregivers in similar situations.

●       Establish a healthy routine – Taking care of yourself is one of the most important parts of being a good caregiver. If you’re overtired, hungry, or experiencing health issues, it will be much more difficult for you to provide good quality care for your loved one. Make a point to establish a regular sleep schedule, drink plenty of water, and find efficient, affordable ways to eat healthfully. Make sure to also get enough exercise each day. A regular meditation or relaxation practice can be another great way to tune into your body and check in with your mind.

●       Allow time for hobbies and enjoyment activities – Caregivers frequently find themselves in a position of giving too much of themselves to the person they care for to the point where they neglect to focus on their own personal interests. This can quickly lead to burnout. Cultivate hobbies and enjoyment activities that you can do in the interstitial periods or on days when you are taking a break so that you can unwind and continue building yourself as an individual. 

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