You’ve done the interviews and chosen an in-home caregiver that seems right for your parent or spouse. Now it’s time for him or her to arrive for their first day on the job.
It’s normal for everyone—you, your loved one and the caregiver—to have butterflies and questions. To start everyone on the right foot, use advice from a professional Care Advisor of Home Care Assistance, Sarena Virani.
Setting the Stage For a New Caregiver
Virani suggests providing a clear picture for the person receiving care. If your parent or spouse met the caregiver during an interview, talk about what you liked. For people with memory issues, it’s helpful to have this conversation a few times. Bring the caregiver alive as a person by describing their experience and personality.
“Do as much as possible in the days or weeks before the caregiver arrives. It’s so important to discuss the new caregiver, care goals and expectations with your loved one as soon as possible. Share details like the caregiver’s name, why they’re arriving and what they’ll be doing,” says Virani.
Introducing the New Caregiver
If the new caregiver arrives alone on their first day, make them comfortable. Re-introduce the caregiver to your family member – they should have met before this day.
If you hire a caregiver through Home Care Assistance, the caregiver will arrive with your dedicated and expert Client Care Manager. Virani says, “Having a Client Care Manager arrive for initial introductions makes a big difference. You already have a relationship with the Client Care Manager. And, they are trained to make smooth introductions and review the care plan.”
This is your opportunity to add depth and nuance to your instructions. Your caregiver will be paying close attention.
House Rules and Family Customs
The customs of your home are different than mine. Don’t be shy about stating your preferences.
Does your mother respond best to using a linen napkin when eating? Should the dog never be let out of the house? Your parent may be averse to bathing in the morning but prefers the evening. You may want the caregiver to not change the channel on the television while your mom naps or you may feel that’s completely acceptable.
“Different families have different preferences. These small behaviors make a difference for each family. Feedback is very important. This is often a trial and error situation that needs more than one day or even week to find an equilibrium,” says Virani. “We find that it takes about four weeks for everyone to feel comfortable and get into the right rhythm/schedule, especially when in-home care is new to the family.”
Virani suggests making a list of the top five behaviors you want the caregiver to use in your home. These are not related to health care and the client’s daily needs, but rather habits and customs. For example, not changing the TV channel when dad is watching his shows, or taking their shoes off when they enter the home.
“The list will grow over the first few weeks. An experienced caregiver will expect those changes. When you have a new person in your home, they can’t anticipate everything that is important to you.
“Provide feedback and say your expectations out loud. Our goal is to ensure that both our clients and caregivers are happy and safe – timely feedback allows us to reach that goal for each family.” says Virani.
Elements of a Healthy and Appropriate Relationship
The relationship between an older person and caregiver is a special one. It is also complex and not without challenges. An environment of trust, interest, and stimulation will move the relationship forward in positive ways.
Before we talk about how to foster a positive relationship, it is important to talk about the special nature of the caregiver client relationship. Closeness is important, but with these cautions in mind:
- Personal health information should be private unless permission is given by the client or family
- Expressions of fondness should never be sexual in nature
- Maintain respect for privacy. This goes both ways. A caregiver may not feel comfortable sharing private information and that should be respected. The same is true of your family member.
Building a Bond with Your Caregiver
The level of bonding between an elder and the caregiver depends on the person receiving the care. Virani reports that some clients resist any friendly relationship with a caregiver. Other people crave a close personal relationship.
“Caregivers find common ground by talking about mutual interests. The Client Care Manager will identify common interests during the assessment stage and the interview. Mention your father’s love of baseball or fishing. This helps the caregiver have topics to discuss with him throughout the day,” Virani added.
Every caregiver situation is different. The home care agency develops a care plan that will identify the tasks a caregiver is to perform for a client. A good agency should also focus on the personal nature of the relationship. A good relationship will ensure a long-lasting and productive experience. This doesn’t happen magically!
As a family member, tell the caregiver about specific activities your loved one enjoys now or has done in the past. Here are some possible activities to encourage bonding and improve a family member’s quality of life.
- Getting out of the house. This could be taking a drive, going out to lunch, a movie or to the senior center. I recently heard a story about a woman who has dementia but is an avid hiker. Her caregiver takes her on hikes. Without someone with her, she would get lost and confused.
- Games. The choice of games depends on a person’s cognitive abilities. If someone has dementia, simple card games or puzzles may be more appropriate. For someone who only has physical problems, a higher level card, board games or word games may be more appropriate. Consider doing the crossword puzzle in the paper together.
- Music. Music is increasingly recognized as an important way to reach people who have dementia. A caregiver can ask your family member if they enjoy music and what kind they like. Some people like using headphones and others are fine with music played in their house.
- Talking. Some people don’t like to talk as much as others do. If someone is not a talker, it is important for the caregiver not to force it! Others may find talking comforting and stimulating. Being prepared with ideas can help. Other family members can help a caregiver come up with topics of interest.
- Spending time in nature. Getting a safe amount of sun when possible, is healthy. Being in nature has been shown to improve mood. Many people enjoy being in gardens or yards, or perhaps going to a nearby park or arboretum. Even 15 minutes a day, weather permitting, can have a positive psychological impact.
Tips for Communicating with Your Caregiver
Good, clear communication is at the heart of any good relationship. This is no different with a caregiver. The question is how, when, and with whom this occurs. As a family member of someone receiving care, it is tempting to “manage” this situation. Here are some tips to help both caregiver and client feel more comfortable with one another, which can increase the chances of bonding.
- As you and the agency identify caregiver tasks, make sure you paint a larger picture of your loved one. This means communicating who this person is, what they did in the past, what they like and don’t like. When a caregiver first meets your loved one, the person they see is often a different version of who the person has been their entire life. The client may have physical or memory problems. It can be hard to envision that this person was once vital with a full and rich life.
- Encourage your family member to talk about their needs, likes and dislikes.
- Request that the caregiver also make suggestions for activities. These suggestions can go to the agency supervisor or to the family member setting up services. Often, a caregiver can come up with good ideas about activities after observing the situation.
- Be flexible in your approach. Things rarely stay the same. Your loved one may change and caregivers can change as well. It is almost impossible to predict how and whether two people will connect. Sometimes, the caregiver you think least likely to do well with your family member turns out to be the star!
Any valued relationship takes effort. Help to facilitate communication and connection by following these tips. You and your family member will be happier and healthier as a result.
What Activities Are Best for the First Day?
Experienced caregivers arrive prepared to perform everything written in the care plan.
The care manager will ask your preference – to start slow or dive in. There is no reason to limit or restrict activity on your first day with the new caregiver.
You may want your caregiver to start with a task that is not intimate personal care. For instance, the caregiver can help in the kitchen, prepare a meal, or do the laundry. This is less personal than helping a person get dressed. As the day progresses, the caregiver will work more directly with their client.
If your parent is accepting of care, go ahead with your typical routine. Schedule medical appointments, haircuts or grocery shopping on the first day.
“It truly depends on the person receiving care and their resistance to having a caregiver,” says Virani.
Caregivers Bring Meals
Depending on the family’s preference, caregivers may eat with the client to provide some company or eat on their own.
“Caregivers generally bring their own meals. Some families prefer to provide a meal for the caregiver. Breaking bread together is a way to bond with the caregiver but it is not necessary,” says Virani.
End the Day With Constructive Feedback
Virani stresses the importance of providing feedback to caregivers about a loved one’s first day. Families and people receiving care should be vocal about what went right and what to change.
On the first day, provide your feedback to your agency’s care advisor. They can be a useful intermediary. They are very experienced at this type of communication,” says Virani.
“Too often a family might feel it’s impolite to talk about something they want changed. I understand. We’re not always accustomed to having people work in our home on such a personal level. Your caregiver is a multifaceted, caring person. They want to provide the care you want, in the way you want it. You are helping everyone by giving feedback.” says Virani.