There’s no doubt about it: being a caregiver can be a very hard job.
Of course, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. Whether you work in a home setting or an assisted living facility, you will face your share of anxiety, heartache, frustration, joy, compassion, and laughter.
Here are some bad habits you can avoid plus advice for being the best care provider you can be while taking care of yourself.
What Makes a Good Caregiver?
Becoming a care provider is one of the biggest challenges and joys you can ever face. Being a great care provider means developing good traits that help you succeed, take care of yourself, and provide the level of care your loved one or client deserves.
Here are some of the most important traits you will need to be a good caregiver:
- Dependability. As a care provider, people rely on you to show up on time and provide the level of care your care recipient needs. You must also be dependable enough to solve problems that come up, stick with it even when it gets tough, and handle a multitude of tasks.
- Compassion. It’s important to be able to empathize with the person you care for to imagine the daily struggles from their perspective. Understanding what they are going through doesn’t just help you provide better care; it can make the job more rewarding.
- Trustworthiness. Caregivers are usually in the position that gives them access to the belongings of the person they care for. A reliable care provider doesn’t breach this trust by taking financial advantage of the person they care for.
- Patience. One of the most important qualities you will need is patience. Plans may change, things will not always go as planned, and sometimes you will face resistance or even aggression from the person you take care of. This role requires a large dose of patience to get you through bad days.
25 Bad Habits to Avoid
Caregiving can be stressful at times and it can be easy to develop bad habits that not only increase anxiety but may even lead to elder abuse in the form of criticism or harassment. Elderly care can be much more fulfilling and enjoyable by breaking the following bad habits and developing good traits that help you thrive in your role.
#1 Being afraid to ask for help
When others ask if they can help, don’t feel like you need to do everything yourself. Instead of replying that you’re fine, remember that it’s okay to admit you can’t handle everything and could use some help. Friends, family members, and neighbors may be able to help with small tasks that make life easier such as help with household chores, company, or taking the care recipient on a walk.
#2 Having no clear goals
Your days are probably very busy. Without clear set goals, you may find yourself doing too much without actually getting anything done. Set specific goals and stay accountable to them. Keep your goals small and easy to work into your routine, such as introducing your loved one or client to a new activity or counting to ten when you feel frustrated.
#3 Assuming a client can’t make decisions
A common pitfall to avoid in elderly care is assuming someone with dementia can’t offer input on big decisions. A client or loved one should be included in decision-making when possible to help them feel validated and give them the care they prefer.
#4 Feeling too much guilt
Guilt can sneak up on you in many ways. You may feel guilty when you get angry at a client or loved one, for failing to live up to the expectations of others, or for not doing “enough.” Remind yourself that you are doing everything you can and the feelings you struggle with are normal.
#5 Setting unrealistic expectations
Don’t try to take on more than you can handle or set the bar too high in terms of your schedule, capabilities, or what your loved one can do.
#6 Failing to take breaks
Caregiving can be a 24/7 job if you let it. Make yourself a priority and get breaks when you can by asking friends, family members, churchgoers, or other companions to visit so you can take time for yourself.
#7 Failing to appreciate yourself
The person you care for may not be able to show appreciation for your help but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it. A lack of recognition for everything you do can fester into frustration and resentment. Give yourself a pat on the back and join a support group to hear the kind words you need.
#8 Not getting organized
You may have a lot of responsibilities to handle. Disorganization will only make life feel more chaotic. Try keeping a daily planner and organizing important documents and information into a designated folder.
#9 Not talking about your feelings
It’s normal to have negative feelings about your role, including frustration, anger, and loneliness. Find someone to vent and share your frustrations to, whether it’s a therapist, support group, or friend.
#10 Not recognizing your limits
Everyone has limits and that’s okay. What’s important is recognizing and accepting your limits, no matter what they may be. Give yourself a reality check to make sure you’re not taking on more than you can handle.
#11 Ignoring your stress
This is a normal part of caregiving but, if ignored, it can affect your emotional and physical health. Stress can lead to appetite changes, irritability, high blood pressure, digestion problems, poor sleep quality, and more. Ignoring it won’t make it go away; find relaxation techniques that work for you like deep breathing techniques, morning walks, or aromatherapy.
#12 Not distinguishing bad behavior from abuse
Elder abuse doesn’t just happen in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; it can also be the result of frustrated and burned out family care providers. When a care provider pushes, hits, or abuses a care recipient, something must change right away but most care providers have given in to frustration and yelled at their loved one. This isn’t abuse but when yelling and outbursts become frequent or more intense, the caregiving plan should be changed.
#13 Letting the good moments slip by
Caregiving can be a truly rewarding experience but it’s easy to overlook the fun and funny moments of your day when you’re overworked, stressed, or exhausted. Take everything one moment at a time and cherish the good times.
#14 Taking things personally
As a senior caregiver, you will face your share of aggression, anger, and frustration from your care recipient. Don’t take the aggression or hurt feelings personally. They may be having a bad day or it may be a symptom of the disease itself.
#15 Not practicing empathy
It can be frustrating when caring for someone who isn’t able to do much for themselves. Don’t forget the person they once were. Try to understand what their journey is like and what these struggles feel like for them.
#16 Not adapting to changes
Sticking to your guns may only lead to battles that no one can win. Not all issues need to be forced. Do your best to go with the flow and take your day moment to moment, adapting to changes in your care recipient’s abilities, personality, and needs day to day.
#17 Treating every day like a battle of wills
Caregiving can become a battle of wills between you and your care recipient if you let it. It’s okay to let something go without turning every issue into a struggle.
#18 Forgetting to laugh
Laughter can lighten your load emotionally and physically. Find the humor in caregiving to cope with difficult emotions. It’s okay to laugh at the funny things that happen to make the experience positive for the both of you.
#19 Not learning effective communication strategies
When caring for someone with dementia, they may repeat questions or become confused about important details. You don’t need to correct them or try to ground them. Agreeing with incorrect statements or distracting them can be effective ways to ease frustration for the both of you.
#20 Ignoring your own medical health
When caring for someone else, it can be easy to overlook your own health. Stay on top of your physical health with regular checkups, dental appointments, and therapy.
#21 Not getting enough sleep
Chronic fatigue and trouble sleeping are warning signs of caregiver burnout. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, the job you perform and your physical health will take a toll. It’s okay to ask for help or otherwise get a break to get the rest you need.
#22 Eating when you remember
One of the most important things you can do to take care of yourself is getting proper nutrition. Your days may be busy and you may only eat whenever you get time but it’s important to set time for regular, nutritious meals to keep up your energy and healthy blood sugar levels.
#23 Not looking for resources
Caregivers have plenty of resources to turn to, including agencies, groups, and organizations that can provide support services, care guides, tip sheets, and emotional support. Reach out for the help you need.
#24 Striving for perfection
No one is perfect. You will make mistakes while caregiving. You may forget appointments or things you need to do or sometimes yell. It’s okay to be human.
#25 Following bad leaders
Whether caring for a loved one at home or a client, there is always some form of leadership in the caregiving role. A bad habit to develop is following bad leaders, such as family members or facility staff, who are overly critical, encourage shortcuts, or overlook dangerous or unethical behavior.
Tips for Caregivers
Want to be the best care provider you can possibly be? Want to take pride in your role and enjoy a rewarding experience like no other?
Here are tips for caregivers to not only provide excellent care but also take care of themselves:
- Don’t forget about yourself. Dedicating yourself to caring for someone else can leave your own health and mental wellbeing to suffer. Get regular sleep and eat a balanced, regular diet. Visit your doctor regularly and watch for physical signs of burnout like high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, and exhaustion.
- Manage your stress. There are many techniques you can try such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or aromatherapy. You can also try support groups, visits with a therapist, or doing things you enjoy like reading.
- Don’t give in to negative self-talk. Your job is difficult but it only gets harder when you talk negatively about the job you do. You carry a lot of responsibility and shouldn’t second-guess yourself.
- Acknowledge what you’re feeling. Negative feelings that come up, including anxiety, frustration, anger, and guilt are completely normal. It’s okay to acknowledge these feelings and talk about them with someone you trust.
- Accept offers of help and don’t be afraid to tell people what you need. For many care providers, this is the hardest step but remember that other people likely don’t know what you’re facing as a senior caregiver and would happily help out where they can.