By Ryan L Malone
In an assisted living environment, caregivers are often thought of only as “hired help.” In fact, both short and long-term relationships with caregivers offer benefits far exceeding assistance with daily living.
The acceptance that caregivers are play an important role in the daily happiness of both the patient and family can lead to a far more positive assisted living experience.
For residents, caregivers play a number of different roles, including:
A friend. Just like having a roommate, the caregiver and your loved one will spend a lot of time together. And just like a roommate, a caregiver and your loved one can become great friends (or not, but that’s a different discussion). The resident and caregiver have become very good friends, going to events together, watching movies together and chatting like good friends do. At many times, the “caregiver” side of their relationship is minimized, and they are friends. This is a good thing!
A listener. The transition to assisted living can be difficult for many people. It was especially difficult for many to move from being so independent to becoming so dependent. Caregivers can be great listeners and counselors. In many cases, their experience gives them a far greater understanding of these challenges than you, and they can be a great resource for your loved one to talk through the issues.
A cheerleader. It can be tough to get motivated for the activities of the day, physical or occupational therapy or just to get out of pajamas in the morning. It’s often tough for all of us. Caregivers can serve as a great cheerleader, giving pep talks when necessary to get out and enjoy the activities of the day.
A big brother or sister. Often in assisted living, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. A caregiver can be the first line of defense to ensure your loved one gets what they need, when they need it.
For families, caregivers can play a whole different set of important roles, including:
Your eyes and ears. While I am lucky enough to live close to my mom, many families live far away from their loved ones. A caregiver can be your eyes and ears about general care, food, services, activities and all the other daily things. They can also share with you the reality of things, as sometimes situations can get exaggerated. Being defensive as we are, it’s good to get both sides of the story before you approach management with a complaint. Example: sometimes residents think their kids are overprotective, but if they stay in touch with the caregiver, they can ensure things are okay while at the same time giving the resident his/her space.
A concierge. It takes a lot of coordination to get your loved one to activities, doctor appointments, beauty appointments, therapy, etc. Each one of these things requires phone calls, follow up, etc. A caregiver can help to off-load much of these from you and help manage your loved ones daily weekly and monthly calendar.
An influencer. As close as you may be with your loved one, there will always be certain topics or issues in which your opinions are not appreciated. Example: Many residents hate going to the doctor. No matter what family members say, residents can often gets defensive and and refuse to be convinced that a doctor visit is required. Because of their own experiences, they may have an aversion for doctors and hospitals. A caregiver can be an alternative communication channel, based on a different type of trust and many of the roles above, and they can be effective at helping to open them up to a different point of view.
There are more, but these are the big ones and certainly enough to get you thinking.
While it may take a while to find the right caregiver, interviewing and evaluating caregivers on more than just their ability to provide care can be beneficial.
Ryan Malone is the editor of the blog “Inside Assisted Living.” The blog focuses on assisting families who are considering assisted living for a loved one. Ryan currently has a family member in assisted living and takes an active role in her care and well-being. You can get more information at ( http://www.InsideAssistedLiving.com).
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