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Peer-to-Peer: How to be a Better Caregiver

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Professional caregivers have a lot to say about what makes a great caregiver. Surprisingly, their advice has little to do with skills like bathing and dressing a person. Instead, the most important caregiving skills are interpersonal skills, according to professional caregivers. Read their best advice for how to be a better caregiver.

1. Respect the senior’s knowledge and abilities

“Clients are not children We do not need to train them. ‘Very helpful’ is the attitude. They know what is going on and I do not, within their personal world and history.” – Joyce, Home Instead® CAREGiverSM

When caring for a senior with dementia or general cognitive decline, it can be tempting to try to “teach” them how to do things like hold a fork or bathe themselves. However, a person with cognitive issues generally is not capable of learning or retaining new things; their goal is to maintain the abilities they still have.

Your intentions may be good in trying to help a senior recover lost skills, but the result may be frustration or anger. Instead of trying to “teach” clients how to perform certain activities, do it the way they ask you to (keeping safety in mind, of course). When you do things the client’s way, you validate them on an emotional level, and that may lead to trust and cooperation.

2. Be patient and flexible

“Try different things. If one doesn’t work, something else will. It’s often the little things that turn into something big.” – June Lawing, 2015 Mary Steibel CAREGiver of the YearSM

There is no single “right” way to do anything. If you keep this thought top-of-mind, you can stay flexible and experiment with multiple approaches until you find one that works with the senior entrusted to your care. Remember, your client’s rejection of a particular technique is not a rejection of you, as a person. Flexibility helps you keep your ego out of the situation and might lead to better care for your client.

3. Commit to a relationship

“Building a relationship takes a bit of time and effort, but the rewards are immense. Listen intently to what your senior has to say. Knowing how their world worked and how they related to it can help you reach them on a deeper level and gain trust.” – Debra, Home Instead CAREGiver

When you build interpersonal relationships with clients, you can learn what matters most to them and anticipate their needs. There are many ways to foster a relationship with your client: ask to look at old family photos together, take note of which books, television programs or games they enjoy, observe how they respond to stressors. And don’t forget to share something about yourself, too. Trust is a two-way street.

4. Foster respect and positivity

“Always respect them. Find a positive to point out. Let them know you noticed.” – Joyce, Home Instead CAREGiver

Many seniors say they feel “invisible” in older age. They may be less able to go out in public due to physical or cognitive decline, and when they do go out they may feel ignored.

You can ease these blows to self-esteem by cultivating a respectful and genuinely caring relationship. Be observant to changes in the senior and his or her environment. Compliment little things, such as an item of clothing or flowers sprouting in the garden. Calling these small things to your client’s attention conveys your care and concern for them.

Professional caregivers should be competent in the skills required to provide assistance with activities of daily living. But cultivating your interpersonal skills can foster a trusting relationship that takes your caregiving to the next level.

From your experience as a senior care professional, what advice would you add to this list? Leave a comment below to help others learn from your wisdom!

Last revised: November 3, 2015

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 23, 2020 at 10:32 am | Posted by Sean Mckeever

    I really appreciate.Great post. I know that this post is a few years old, but I still think that many of the topics discussed here are extremely relevant. I am having also, good experiences with senior's care facilities. I also have same type of services named as "yourseniorcarespecialists". Thanks for sharing.


  2. January 17, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Posted by Taylor Wright

    I like that you said interpersonal relationships can be strong with the caregiver and the client. My sister is starting a caregiver job next month and wants to make sure she does a good job for all the clients. I'll be sure to share this with her so she can study up and be prepared.


  3. January 7, 2020 at 9:00 pm | Posted by Jesse Ford

    Thanks for mentioning that the best caregiver has interpersonal skills rather than being able to bath and dress a patient. My sister is thinking about taking some online caregiver courses to take from home because she wants to change her career starting next month. I think it's a good investment for her to go through a reputable company that can help her refine what she knows and teach her some new skills that she doesn't know in a new and different field.


  4. August 15, 2019 at 8:18 am | Posted by Andrea

    I can help in so many ways from my past expriences. I was taking care of my grandmother , she past away of an old age. I'm gonna b serious with u, im lovin Carin, an love 2 c older an younger ones live. I'm here motherly


  5. June 26, 2019 at 11:06 am | Posted by Faye

    My client has so many of the symptoms of Alzheimer's but has not been officially diagnosed. It is difficult to tell how much of her rudeness and meaness is part of the disease or her regular personality. She has a caseworker and I work for an agency so many times it is difficult to get everybody working together. It can be very frustrating and I would like to have more to do.


  6. June 4, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Posted by Barbara

    Hi, I don't have a comment, just a question. How can I find someone to stay with my loved one, when I need to run errands, like groceries, personal care, hair etc. Thank you,


    • June 6, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Posted by Home Instead

      Thank you for your interest in Home Instead! Since each franchise is independently owned and operated, please contact your local branch for details on services provided, rates and any other questions you may have. You can find a location near you at


  7. January 7, 2016 at 9:03 am | Posted by Zoe Howard

    Be natural in conversation and genuine in your words and actions. Don't pretend to be interested. Leave the "it's just a job" attitude at the front door - or, better still, don't do the job if that is how you feel. If you're fake, you'll soon get found out.


  8. November 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Posted by suan schnell

    Getting to know the care recipient and respecting them opens the door to understanding them and especially, their emotions , specifically with regard to their levels of loss, that they perceive. Sensing your desire to understand better will also open doors of communication and that will help tremendously in your work with the care recipient. They too, have to learn to accept you as the caregiver.


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