AT some point in our lives, we may find ourselves being a caregiver. It could be to our children or our elderly parents. Some do it for a short time, others for years.
In Asian countries in particular, where filial piety is very important, daughters and sons often find themselves taking on this role whether they are prepared for it or not.
To do it out of love for your parent or loved one may seem easier than doing it because you are employed to do so. This is because the motivation of love is strong, even though it comes at a psychological and emotional price.
If you cannot take care of your elderly family member, what is the next best option? To hire a caregiver. But, can anyone be a caregiver? What sorts of qualities and skills should caregivers have?
According to Norashikin Cheong Abdullah, head of Training and Quality Assessment at the Aged Care Group, everyone is a caregiver in the value chain of care. Someone who contributes in monetary form to the care of a loved one is a financial caregiver. If a family member provides companionship to the loved one, she is also a caregiver in her own way.
Skills and attributes
Norashikin highlights some of the skills or attributes a person should possess to be a good caregiver:
- Attention to detail – Some care recipients have detailed routines or schedules and specific instructions for their care that need to be adhered to.
- Interpersonal skills – The elderly need extra care as some may be sensitive to what you say or how you treat them. Some care recipients may be experiencing pain or they may be fragile and need to be handled carefully. Caregivers must be sensitive, sympathetic and compassionate. To have a good relationship with the care recipient, the caregiver must first establish rapport with them, then only can they begin to gain their trust. This is sometimes the hardest skill to develop.
- Be in good health and possess stamina – Caregivers may need to lift care recipients into the bathtub or move them from the bed to the wheelchair to the car, etc. In order to administer care, the caregiver must be physically and emotionally sound.
- Have good time management – As caregivers often double-up as schedule keepers for the care recipient, they need to be good at juggling activities and tasks within a certain time frame. Caregivers have to make sure care recipients get up on time, take their medication according to schedule and keep their doctor appointments.
While the caregiver’s job may include some of the tasks that nurses undertake in hospitals, such as helping to clean the patient, it should not be confused with nursing.
“There are similarities, but a nurse is trained to give a higher level of care. For the caregiver, they would be taught to assist in bathing, grooming, personal hygiene and feeding. They will also be taught how to move the elderly. You have to brace yourself first before you can move them. Otherwise both of you will fall and the caregiver will have muscle strain,” says Norashikin.
Nurses are trained to do more than all of that. They would know about other things, like sores and wounds, how to use a urinary catheter and how to handle injections and intravenous (IV) infusions.
But, the caregiver’s job is not purely about cleaning and feeding, either.
“It can be more than that, as not all elderly individuals need assistance for the above activities. Some merely need companionship and the caregivers should design activities for them according to their capability. Or, they may just need help with errands or a medical escort for doctor’s appointments and the collection of medication,” says Norashikin.
She notes that being a caregiver has it challenges. The more complex the care recipient’s health needs, the more demanding the caregiver’s role might be.
For example, caregiving for a care recipient with brain-related issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain injuries, memory loss, mental illness, or any of these combinations along with physical disabilities may be more demanding compared to caregiving for those who are mobile and relatively healthy.
Here are some of the challenges that caregivers face:
- Exhaustion – If there is no other person to provide respite, the caregiver will experience burnout as a result of unrelieved continuous caring. Many exhausted caregivers never seek help because they do not realise they are physically and emotionally drained.
- Guilt – For family members, caregiving will come with a feeling of guilt; that they are not doing enough for their loved one. Caregivers must realise that it is not selfish to sometimes think about their own needs and feelings first.
- Loss and grief – Family members taking care of loved ones who have dementia, Alzheimer’s or any other illness and those who are in the last stage of their life, will start to have a feeling of loss. They may even start grieving for the loss of their loved one even though their loved one is still alive, because they are a shadow of their former self.
- Anger – Taking care of the elderly, whether it is your family member or not, can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes the elderly may even take out their own frustrations on the caregiver for not being able to do things on their own or because they have to rely on someone else.
- Stress, anxiety and depression – This is a consequence of the exhaustion, anger, guilt and loss. If stress builds up without being dealt with, depression and anxiety would likely occur. Sometimes it is also the result of feeling overwhelmed, especially if the caregiver is the only one taking care of the elderly.
- Self-care – A caregiver must know when they are overwhelmed and need to ask for help. They should be aware of their own physical, emotional and psychological limitations. Adequate sleep, exercise and a nutritional diet are essential for maintaining their wellbeing. They should look after themselves first so that they are equipped to look after the elderly.
While some may be interested to become caregivers, they don’t always know what the career path is like.
Norashikin says that caregivers who have undergone the vocational training programme under the Ministry of Human Resources can move up the ladder from Level 1 to Advanced Diploma level of skilled worker training.
Those who have the minimal entry requirements to a Diploma in Nursing can later pursue the nursing training/course to become registered nurses.
According to Norashikin, Aged Care Group offers opportunities and training for those interested to embark into caregiving.
“Caregiving can be very challenging but always remember why you are doing it,” says Norashikin, who helped take care of her grandparents when she was a teenager.
“I found it very rewarding; my grandparents appreciated it and it fostered a stronger relationship with them. I hope the public will look at caregiving as a rewarding career path. They should have that compassion to look after the elderly; it’s not always about the money.
“I personally find caregiving rewarding. It can be a rewarding experience, providing a sense of meaning and fulfilment,” she adds.
According to Norashikin, there are not many centres that provide formal caregiver training. “Aged Care Group is offering a series of informal caregiver training sessions to mitigate the gap of skilled care givers. Such informal trainings can be tailor-made to meet the needs of the individual care recipient. Anyone who wants to know more about caregiving can check out our website at www.agedcare.com.my. We plan to educate and raise awareness on caregiving,” informs Norashikin.