Characteristics of the perfect caregiver of the elderly
Caring for the elderly comes with a great responsibility. Definitely not everyone can successfully cope with that role. In order to succeed in this job a person should have certain set of characteristics presence of which will allow the workers to be satisfied with their work. In this article I will deal primarily with mental immunity and so-called caregiver stress syndrome, but at the beginning I will also mention other personality traits and characteristics necessary to practice this profession.
First of all, we need to remember that a good caregiver is a composed and patient person. Both of these features are extremely important in dealing with dependent people who, because of their age and disease might feel nervous, lost or be in a bad mood. Another important feature is the ability to react quickly in crisis situations and resistance to stress. Putting a brave on things in a the event of sudden deterioration in the well-being of an elderly person and the ability to provide first aid are amongst the most important responsibilities of a senior care assistant. Knowledge about diseases and illnesses affecting the elderly is also very useful. A good caregiver should be empathic and sensitive to the feelings and needs of the elderly. It is vital to support, talk and build positive relationships between the caregiver and the mentee. Important personality traits undoubtedly include warmth and cordiality, which a person can bestow on their mentee: it’s mainly about the ability to create a situation where the senior will feel good and safe. It should also be remembered that the basic principle in the care of the elderly people is respect for the mentee. Certainly, good physical condition is an important feature of an elderly person’s caregiver. Everyday activities related to the care of the dependents require efficiency while performing various types of duties.
To sum up, the work of an elderly person’s guardian is a demanding job, and therefore it should certainly not be done by random people (whose main motivation is for example to earn money), but those who have the appropriate predispositions for it.
Mental resistance and work with the elderly and the so-called caregiver stress syndrome
“Mental resistance is a personality trait that largely determines how well we deal with challenges, stressors and pressure, regardless of the circumstances” (Strycharczyk, Clough, 2015).
Even the most resistant people can lose their resistance after long-term care of a chronically ill person. Performing tasks under constant stress has certain emotional and social consequences.
This situation can lead to symptoms that are called the Caregiver Syndrome (or CSS – Caregiver Stress Syndrome).
Caregiver Stress Syndrome is a new phenomenon in psychology, scientists in the world have only been dealing with it for 20 years. In Poland, this phenomenon was highlighted a few years ago. So let’s get to know what caregiver’s stress syndrome is and how to deal with it.
Caregivers often complain about the lack of gratitude on the part of the elderly. Paradoxically – by devoting their time and strength to the person looked after, the elderly often become their greatest enemies, because they constantly demand, forbid or order something. This situation may lead to symptoms that are called the Caregiver Stress Syndrome.
The Caregiver Syndrome – symptoms
The “Caregiver Syndrome” is characterized by specific symptoms:
• physical (e.g. pain, tiredness),
• psychosomatic (e.g. problems with sleep, appetite),
• psychosocial (e.g. feelings of emptiness, loneliness, isolation).
They can occur in people with responsibility for caring for the sick and are compounded by chronic fatigue and neglect of their own needs. The environment – both medical staff who take care of the sick and the immediate environment (family, neighbours, etc.) – expects the carer to fulfill his duties perfectly. Everyone accounts for the caregiver, at the same time forgetting about him and his rights. If the caregiver does not devote himself completely to his role, he is assessed as uninvolved, not caring for his mentee. In such circumstances, self-care would be a manifestation of unacceptable selfishness of the guardian. A danger for the person who deals with the sick are the symptoms of depression. Symptoms of the guardian’s syndrome develop slowly, parallel to the deteriorating health of the mentee. The caregiver often experiences sadness, feelings of emptiness, loses interest in the current forms of activity. In depression, he can neglect his duties, posing a threat to the mentee and himself. In very extreme cases, suicidal thoughts may occur. Especially when the caregiver is a sick person and needs help.
Chronic stress severely strains our immune system, a caregiver more often than usually becomes ill with various types of infections. Due to fatigue, the ability to think and concentrate also deteriorate. A common manifestation of the Caregiver Syndrome is anger at the mentee, the situation in which the caregiver finds himself, and reluctance to perform everyday activities. The slightest failure can then cause irritability and irritation as well as anger that is difficult to control. It also happens that a person caring for a sick and elderly person is accompanied by a constant feeling of guilt because of neglecting their duties, their improper performance or suppressed anger at the patient. Most symptoms can be greatly exaggerated, that is, they can be felt by a person who performs his duties correctly and properly. In summary – the main symptoms of the Guardian’s Syndrome are:
- feeling guilty
- feeling of powerlessness
- deterioration of physical health
According to the report published by the website www.health.com, carers of
the elderly are in the first place in the ranking covering professions that can
contribute most to the appearance of mood disorders. Nearly 11 percent of those
performing this occupation suffer from depression.
How can you deal with the Caregiver Syndrome?
Most caregivers do not seek professional help because they do not realize that they suffer from a medical condition. What is happening to them they usually interpret as weakness of their character or lack of skills. Meanwhile, the significance of the problem is demonstrated by the results of research carried out at the University of Pittsburgh by Richard Schulz and Scott Beach, according to which the care of a chronically ill person increases the risk of death by 63% compared to a group of peers who do not work as caregivers.
It is important for the caregiver to watch not only the patient but also himself. If he wants to be good at what he does, he must take care of himself first. Someone who is exhausted, irritable, depressed – will not be a good guardian. That is why “healthy egoism” is needed – that is, above all, taking care of one’s own needs. A good guardian is a smiling and relaxed guardian. A serious mistake is to take the posture: “I have to manage, I have to be independent, I will not ask anyone for help.” With proper support, the role of guardian may become easier. First you need to take into account informal support, which includes family, friends, neighbors. They are a good source of help, especially emergency help, and their presence can improve the patient’s mood. It is a mistake to isolate and avoid people who would like to help or even listen to the problems. It is advisable to talk about matters related to the syndrome and to accept the help offered.
Caregivers should think about support systems at an early stage of their
career. Thanks to regular help focused on the physical and emotional needs of
the caregiver, crisis situations are prevented, which in the context of many
long years of care for the elderly person is crucial for the health and quality
of life of not only the caregiver but also the caregiver’s mentee.
The first symptoms of the Caregiver’s Syndrome may be controlled by the caregiver himself, but it is worth remembering that the more serious symptoms of the disease usually require the help of a psychologist. The caretaker of the elderly person should remember that apart from working for their mentee, they also have their own life and must not forget about it during everyday activities. Our work will be better and more efficient if in everyday life we plan time to rest, relax, go for a walk, clear our thoughts from the patient’s problems and deal with the things we like. It is important not to blame yourself for the patient’s condition, not to give up if the disease wins again, and not us, and to find strength in fighting other health problems of the patient. If the patient is troublesome, cranky and frustrated, it is worth explaining his behavior with illness and suffering, and not with deliberate malice directed against us. It facilitates work and changes our attitude towards the mentee.
None of us is self-sufficient. It is more obvious that in a situation of a loved one’s chronic illness, we should be able to use the help of others. It will certainly be useful for both caregivers and the sick. It is worth remembering the following possibilities:
• support of family, friends and even neighbors,
• support groups (it’s easiest to contact the attending physician to contact them),
• help of specialists – doctor, psychologist, nurse,
• relax – that is, all those forms of activity that bring relaxation to a given person (walking, reading, cooking, jogging, nordic walking, listening to music, meeting with friends, etc.)
If the caregiver understands that he is not irreplaceable and there are no contraindications for some of the duties to be taken over by others, and additionally he will take care of his mental comfort – there is much less chance of being touched by the Caregiver’s Syndrome.
Article by: psychologist Małgorzata Mitura-Cegłowska
Lasarus R. S. (1966), Psychological stress and the coping proces. New York: McGrow-Hill
Kristof-Brown A. L., Zimmerman R. D., Johnson E. C. (2005), Consequences of individuals’ fit at work: A meta-analysis of person-job, person-organization, person-group, and person-supervisor FIT, Personnel Psychology
Selye H. (1983), The stress concept: Past, present, and future. New York: C. L. Cooper
Styrycharczyk D., Clough P. (2015), Developing Mental Toughness. Coaching strategies to improve performance, resiliences and wellbeing. London: Kogan.