- This is a question that I ask myself frequently. What are the attributes of an effective Alzheimer’s caregiver? Some days my answers might change but these are the top ten attributes as I see them. Most learn to give care just like I did — flying by the seat of their pants with no idea of what it takes or what it entails. I became a caregiver when I realized my mother could no longer live on her own. She is 77 years old and suffers from early stage Alzheimer disease. I have to admit that it was something that hadn’t crossed my mind often. I mean I knew it would happen “someday”. But “someday” was a day that lurked in the distant future. It wasn’t until “someday” snuck up and smacked me right across the face that I had to think and I had to think fast. So, I moved my mother in for better or for worse.
Like most, I made countless mistakes and but did manage to do something things well. I haven’t been doing this very long. I gave myself a crash course and have tried to read every article, post or book I could get my hands on and this is what I have learned.
Love. This is the first, last and most essential on the list. Everything you do or say has to come from a place of love. You will have many ups and downs and the one thing you must always remember is the person you are caring for is your “loved” one.
Commitment. This is very important, you have to decide if this is something that you can take on and commit to. It is not a job you can just quit. Let me say there will be hard days. Days where you will cry and maybe think of throwing in the towel but you have taken on the job of caregiver. Your loved one depends on you and they need to be able to count on you.
Understanding. This is a MUST. You have to understand what your loved one is feeling.You have to see things through their eyes. They cannot express their feelings the way you and I can. They have lost this ability and you have to learn to read between the lines.
Patience. This is a big one. One that I still work on daily. Your patience will be tried and tested over and over again. You have to go slow when you’re in a hurry. You have to repeat yourself over and over. Your loved one cannot help asking things so many times. They just don’t remember asking them the other 99 times. You have to let your voice and facial expressions be calm no matter what. Believe me when I tell you they can tell the difference and will pick up on it.
Caring. Everything you do has to be about letting your loved one know that you care. Every touch, every word, You have to let them know everyday that they are safe and secure and yes cared for.
Knowledge. This is not something you will have immediately but to be a good caregiver you have to find it and fast. The more you know, the more confident you will become. This helps you loved one to have more confidence in you which will add to their feelings of being safe and secure.
Honesty. This is a tricky one. I will admit that I sometimes tell my mother little white lies. If she asks when we are going back to Kentucky I say soon instead of the truth because it makes her feel better. If she asks why my brother doesn’t call I might say he called yesterday. These “fibs” are told out of love, not to do harm. The honesty I am talking about is being honest with yourself. If there are areas in which you need help or simply need a break to recharge you have to be honest with yourself and ask someone for that help.
Flexibility. You have to be able to set you schedule by your loved ones needs. They may need to go to the doctors, or they may need to get out of the house to take a walk, maybe they are having a rough day and just need you to sit with them and hold their hand. You have to be able to let things go for the greater good. It is their schedule that has to come first in your life.
Perspective. You have to be a good detective when it comes to your loved one. Some behaviors they may try to hide from you. Somethings they do mean something else entirely. You have to look into their face. Watch their eyes and facial expressions,listen to their voices and you will understand them in ways you never thought possible.
Organization. This is very important also. Being organized will save you in so many ways. Someone with dementia/Alzheimer’s will do so much better if they are on a consistent routine. I have found with my mother that it is actually helping her memory. She is doing more for herself because she always knows what comes next. Keeping track of medications and doctors appointments are a MUST. If you are organized your whole life will run smoother.
I am in no way an expert, not even close. But, I read the words of the experts and take to heart. Our lives became happier and more peaceful than I ever thought possible. We went from a miserable mess to an organized and happy family. Feel free to add to the list of important attributes of a caregiver in the comments section below.
Rena McDaniel — I live with my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. It has changed my life but the surprising part is that it may have changed it for the better. I am now closer to her than I have ever been. I have created a blog titled “The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver“. My motto is “Appreciate the Good, Laugh at the Crazy, and Deal with the Ugly!”