Admirable Qualities that Caregivers Share
Our co-founder Michael Potteiger reflects on what he’s learned from caregivers over the past few years
Caregivers rarely get the appreciation and respect that they deserve. Attending to the needs of another person is a selfless task, and everyone that takes on that role deserves gratitude.
There are millions of caregivers amongst us. In the United States, there are over 43 million caregivers - more than 34 million are providing unpaid care to a loved one over the age of 50, and more than 15 million are caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or a similar dementia.
I’ve had the privilege of working very closely with this community - specifically families and teams that are providing care for people living with dementia. It’s been a humbling (and at times heartbreaking) experience.
No matter the circumstance, caregiving is challenging. The practical side of providing care can be overwhelming - coordinating appointments, managing medications, monitoring symptoms, and completing a wide variety of other tasks. There’s only so many hours in a day and these responsibilities can be time consuming and tedious.
There’s also the emotional component of providing care, which can make the role significantly more demanding. It’s also where great caregivers thrive; they have an uncanny ability to make meaningful connections in the midst of challenging situations.
The caregivers that I’ve encountered are an eclectic bunch - spanning countless different age ranges, demographics, ethnicities, and personality types. However, they all have a few similar qualities that we can all learn from.
Empathy does not always come naturally. As humans, we are hardwired to process the world through our own emotions and urges. Caregivers have the ability to perceive the world from the perspective of the recipient - recognizing, feeling, and sharing emotions.
Practicing empathy requires self-control. When providing care, you will inevitably encounter situations that will cause you stress and frustration. Surrendering to your own emotions in those situations can prevent you from understanding the care recipient’s experience.
Empathy also requires a person to be perceptive. One family described their in-home caregiver for their mother who was living with Alzheimer’s as “an absolute blessing”. They made special mention about her attentiveness - “She seems to always know what Mom is thinking. She knows that this grimace means something different than that grimace, and this smile vs. that smile. It’s amazing.”
A harsh reality of caregiving is understanding that not all days are good days. Sometimes, there are simply situations that are out of our control.
Perhaps, the person receiving care is in pain, or needs to undergo a stressful procedure. In other situations, the tension is the result of the care recipient expressing anxiety, confusion, depression, or pent-up frustration.
Either way, these moments are difficult for caregivers. Often, you feel for that person, and experience the same difficult emotions. In other circumstances, you may feel unappreciated and grow frustrated.
Some people are defeated by these tough times - searching for ways to avoid the situation altogether. Caregivers, on the other hand, remain resolute in the face of adversity - determined to do the best that they can do.
Even in the most trying of circumstances, caregivers have a knack for facilitating moments of comfort or joy. Sometimes a caregiver’s resourcefulness is the result of careful planning and experience, and other times, it’s simply an instinct to do the best you can in a given situation.
Medical appointments, or worse - unexpected trips to the hospital, are a common source of stress for people receiving care and caregivers. These situations typically involve the care recipient feeling physically or emotionally distressed in an unfamiliar or unwelcome environment. On top of that, there is often uncertainty regarding the cause of the problem and the timeframe for resolving it.
I’ve encountered several caregivers that have a specially prepared “Go Bag” designed for outings of this nature. The “Go Bag” contains extra clothes, hygiene products, blankets or other tactile objects for fiddling, music player, headphones, games, or other resources that might be helpful. The “Go Bag” is always packed and ready to go in case of emergency.
In addition to being prepared, caregivers are also creative. One family caregiver was devastated to learn that her mother, who is living with Alzheimer’s, became very upset when she left after visiting. Her mom told care staff at the retirement community that she had not seen her daughter in ages and misses her dearly, despite seeing her recently and regularly.
The mother was so upset that staff had to call the daughter, so she could talk to her mom on the phone. It worked; the daughter was able to comfort her mom - letting her know that she would be visiting again soon. This sequence became a common occurrence, and the daughter was feeling overwhelmed with the frequency of upset phone calls.
Working together with the care staff, they came up with a creative solution. The daughter recorded her voice over some pictures with her mom, explaining how much she enjoyed spending time with her, and how she plans to visit soon.
In the future, when the mother became upset - staff would tell her that her daughter just left a message; then, they would play the video. The familiar voice and images were comforting, helping the daughter be there for mom - even when she could not physically be there.
When it comes down to it, caregivers are strong people with big hearts. At Generation Connect, we are extremely grateful for these individuals and honored to work alongside them.