At lunch this week, a co-worker overheard me talking to my mom’s caregiver. When I hung up, he asked me, “What exactly does a caregiver do?” While at first I thought the answer to be pretty obvious, I realized it is more complex.
I learned over the last few years that the right caregiver can do far more than provide care.
My mom’s caregiver plays 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). My mom and her 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. You’ve probably read my mom’s story. It was especially difficult for her 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 my mom thinks I am overprotective, so I stay in touch with her caregiver to make sure things are okay while at the same time giving my mom 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: my mom hates going to the doctor. No matter what I say, she gets defensive and doesn’t listen. Because of her own experience, she has a general disdain 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 some of the big ones.
It took us a while to find the right caregiver (good topic for a future post), but once we did, the results have been outstanding. My mom is happy, things are smoother, and all is less stressful.
What roles have caregivers played for you?