When Carton Blanche asked me to write about what it means to be a good caregiver, my mind immediately went to “This will be easy, I’ve been a nurse for 25 years.” But as I gave the topic more and more thought, the more I realized what I believed was important to convey about caregiving, was not all coming from the nursing profession that I know so well and so greatly respect. Good caregiving to me is more than the nursing and clinical details - it is the human connection that anyone can make and not just those in healthcare.
As we know, caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes: caring for a family member, a friend, patients, clients, and caring for those people in private homes, hospitals, long term care facilities, hospice, and more. Caring for different conditions also varies greatly: those with acute illness or injury, those with chronic conditions, post-operative care, end of life care, and so many more. What is important to remember in any and all of those situations and environments is that you are the one entrusted to care for someone and you have the choice to make someone’s care (and life!) better.
In any caregiving situation, the first and foremost aspect of care to think about is establishing trust. When trust and rapport are established early on, it sets the tone positively for the caregiving dynamic. Neither role (caregiver or patient/client/family member) is easy, but when you connect with openness, honesty, and respect it sets the foundation for a healthier caregiving relationship. How do you establish this type of trust? By listening, engaging, and interacting with the person. Listen to their tone of voice, watch their body language and facial expressions, and notice their demeanor. As you watch and listen, ask questions, and engage with them.
One of the most important aspects of caregiving is promoting independence. When someone is ill or injured and in need of care, it’s important to remember they have lost some or all of their independence. Promoting independence in any way you are able allows the person to have some control over their life. Knowing they have control allows them to feel they are still part of important decisions and activities of daily living. Along with promoting independence, it’s crucial the caregiver respects and values the person’s routine. It’s a natural tendency for a caregiver to come in and provide care on their terms and according to their preferences. Instead, let the care recipient establish the routine and always encourage them to perform any daily tasks they are able to even if it means it takes longer or is done differently than you would do. While promoting independence, don’t make assumptions: communicate clearly with the person establishing expectations and routines but also remember to be flexible and forgiving.
I believe there is another key aspect to good caregiving and that is acknowledging and validating the person’s statements, concerns, and feelings. When a caregiver acknowledges what they say, it lets them know the caregiver is listening, hearing what they say, and most importantly, caring about what they say. Validating lets them know you can see things from their perspective and helps them feel “normal” for having the feelings they do. An easy tip to follow in acknowledging and validating is to avoid the use of “I” statements such as “I totally understand your…” Instead, try “It’s understandable that….” or “It’s perfectly normal to feel….”
Depending on one’s level of care, you may need or want to help with their personal care. Helping the person promote and maintain good hygiene is extremely important, both physically and emotionally. When the person maintains good hygiene, it promotes a sense of dignity, independence, and an overall sense of well-being. It also helps give them a sense of safety and security which are often lost. Remember, daily tasks are easier to complete when the person feels rested, refreshed, and well-cared for.
Following some of the suggestions above, focusing not only on the physical needs but the emotional needs of the person, will lead to good caregiving. With that, there often comes a greater sense of responsibility, increased stress, and perhaps worry, but providing compassionate care will leave you feeling valued, respected, and much appreciated. As a caregiver, making a difference in someone’s life by providing care with meaningful human connection is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding feelings I’ve ever had. I believe you will get some of these same feelings from the amazing care you provide. Those you care for are fortunate to have you making a difference in their lives.
Rebecca Hill Maley has been a nurse for 25 years providing patient care in a variety of clinical settings and is now a career coach for nurses. https://rebeccamaleycoaching.com