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The probability that you will need to give feedback to your caregiver is 100%. There is also a very good chance you will have a miscommunication. Having opinions about how a caregiver does their job is normal. But remember, caregivers are human too. Providing appropriate and timely feedback will set the tone for a good, positive relationship.

Why isn’t hiring a caregiver as easy as working with an employee at your office?

  • Because another person is involved, and that person likely has cognitive and physical challenges.
  • Your years of history and emotions can be complicated.
  • You may behave one way “at home” and another “at work.”
  • The caregiver may come from a very different cultural background. Elders may have an elevated status over “sons and daughters.”
  • The caregiver is supervised by the agency. They take most of their instructions from the agency.

5 Steps to Giving Instructions to Your Caregiver

You know your spouse or parent best. You know their preferences. You know the little tricks that make all the difference in that person’s comfort level. This is second nature to you. With someone new, don't make assumptions about what they should "know." Here are 5 steps to giving instructions that stick:

1. Start by establishing a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Clear communication at the outset can avoid problems later. Read Day 1 With a New Caregiver in Your Home.

2. Let the caregiver know specifically how you like things done. Go into step-by-step details. Don't let assumptions rule your relationship, outline your expectations.

  • Rather than saying this: “Mary please cook Dad three meals a day,” be specific by saying: “Mary, Dad likes his meals small with snacks in between. Here is a list of some of his likes and dislikes.”

3. Use different forms of communication. Some people “hear” instructions, but don’t absorb the information. When you can, actually show the caregiver how you want something done. Try a role-playing exercise with the caregiver to help them understand how you want something done.

  • Rather than saying “Dad needs three showers a week.” Again, be specific. “Dad likes his showers in the evening and it seems to help him sleep better. Make sure that the bathroom is warm before you take him in. Don’t ask him if he wants a shower. Tell him it is time for his shower.”

4. Write down important instructions. These can be added to a care plan that is already at the home (usually in a binder). Another option is to use a notebook specifically for the caregivers. This way, any additional caregivers will have the same information.

5. Have one family member be the main spokesperson. Instructions from multiple people can be confusing and overwhelming.

Read: Who’s the Boss? Working with Your Parent’s Caregiver

When Things Go Wrong

Caregivers will make mistakes. How you deal with those mistakes is important. Some situations call for immediate response and feedback. Refer other issues to the agency. Let’s look at some possible scenarios.

Scenario One: It seems the caregiver is not doing what you wanted

You come home to find caregiver Mary sitting in a chair reading. Your parent or spouse is sleeping in the chair beside her. You say: “Mary what are you doing?? Why isn’t Dad up and doing something? He needs to be kept awake so he will sleep at night!”. How could this feedback be more helpful?

This feedback is accusatory. It immediately makes assumptions about the situation that may or may not be true. Mary will feel criticized. This response is not constructive.

Here is a more appropriate and helpful response:

“Mary, I see that Dad is sleeping. What happened today to cause him to be so tired?” Depending on Mary’s response, review the reasons for keeping Dad awake. Perhaps Dad was agitated or particularly tired and Mary made the most appropriate decision at the time. Perhaps Mary forgot to keep Dad awake.

Scenario Two: It seems an item has gone missing

You are visiting Mom and she says: “That caregiver Nancy took my wedding ring!” You find Nancy in the kitchen and immediately confront her: “Nancy, I am going to call the police immediately! Mom just told me that you stole her wedding ring!”

This response is so difficult to walk back. It could cause irreversible damage.

Here is a calmer, more well-reasoned response:

Reassure mom that you will handle this situation. You don’t want to foster distrust if it is unwarranted. First, check to make certain that the ring is missing. It may be misplaced, or it may be in plain sight.

Ask Nancy if she has seen the ring, by saying “Nancy, mom is missing her wedding ring. Have you seen it?” If you can’t find the wedding ring, and Mom continues to insist that it was stolen, call the agency to discuss.

7 Communication Tips To Giving Good Feedback to The Caregiver

Be prepared in advance to respond to caregiver errors.

  1. Talk to the Agency at the Beginning of the Relationship: The agency may have a policy about how to handle caregiver feedback. Especially as it pertains to making changes on the plan of care. If you want to make a permanent change on caregiver approach, talk with the agency about how to handle this.
  2. Control Your Emotions: Unless it is an emergency, take a step back. And breathe. Anger clouds judgement. If possible, take some time to process your response. It is difficult to undo the damage caused by an angry response.
  3. Listen First: Many times, there is a reasonable explanation for a caregiver’s actions. Ask first and respond later.
  4. Be Respectful: Start the conversation with something positive. For example: “Nancy, I so appreciate the work you are doing for mom.” Or, “Nancy, I am impressed by how kind you are with mom.”
  5. Recognize That You are Fallible: You could be wrong. Your feedback is an interpretation of what you observe. Diffuse the situation by starting with, “I could be wrong...”
  6. Observe and Teach: Use mistakes as teaching moments. Constructive feedback can be an opportunity to educate the caregiver.
  7. Show You Care: Come from a place of caring about the caregiver. Ask the caregiver for their opinion about how things are going. Caregivers often have great suggestions on how to improve care.

Remember, you have an emotional stake in making things go smoothly. You, the caregiver, and the agency are on the same team with the same goal. To give compassionate, respectful care to your parent or spouse.

Learn more about Home Care Assistance here.

About the Author(s)

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of Choose Your Place: Rethinking Home as You Age (November 2020) and of Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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