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February 2, 2020

Essential Caregiver Skills: What great home care looks like


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Now more than ever, seniors are in need of skilled caregivers who can keep them satisfied. The relationship between the aging population and the market for caregivers is becoming more distant with each passing year.  Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management professor Paul Osterman has spent many years trying to understand how the aging babyboomers are going to impact the need for caregivers. And in one statement he summarizes:

“It’s an absolute train wreck waiting to happen.”

The evidence supporting this Osterman’s assumption is clear and concise. By 2030, we can expect as many as 151,000 elderlies to be in need of a caregiver. An estimate that is going to double by 2040. This does not include the estimations that he made for unpaid caregivers - like family members and friends.

In essence, the need for skilled caregivers is expected to increase drastically over the years to come. Therefore, if you are looking to get a jump start in your career as a caregiver - potentially even as the founder of a caregiving business - then the market has this amazing opportunity lined up for you.

However, to make it in this industry, it will take more than a market opportunity. Caregiving is all about relationships, cultural awareness, and a few other skills that few people acknowledge when thinking of the business. It is not just taking care of the patient, it is about creating an environment where the patient feels safe and supported.

In this blog, we will help you learn about some of the core skills that every individual should think about prior to delivering the service of a caregiver.

Related: Professional Case Management Software: Streamlining Workflow in Nonprofits

Caregiver Etiquette

Before starting to even think about caregiving as a potential job or business, it is customary to think about caregiving etiquette first. There are a few questions that must be answered with respect to the etiquette:

  • What are the do’s and the don'ts of caregiving? 

  • How am I expected to behave in front of the family member and the patient? 

  • To what extent do I fulfill the needs of the care-receiver (i.e. the patient)?

  • What type of communication is appropriate and are there specific cultural norms that I need to follow?

Answering some of these questions will help you understand the extent to which you will need the next set of skills that we will discuss. Remember that empathy is a big part of the etiquette. As a caregiver, you are expected to put yourself in the shoes of the receiver and empathize with their needs. Relationships are only built when the needs of the care-receiver are aligned with those of the caregiver. 

Cultural Awareness


As a caregiver, one must always be aware of and sensitive to the care-receivers culture. The way you serve an American patient may be completely different from the way you serve an Asian patient. For example, in the American culture, it is acceptable for the care-receiver to pursue alternative and unconventional medicinal practices, while in the Asian cultures that would not be the case. If you - as a caregiver - have been provided with a doctor’s prescription for the care-receiver than be ready to follow the guidelines and procedures as stated on the prescription.

Any other example that we give will only be a generalization of other experiences. Therefore, it is important to know that cultural awareness and competency are critical skills that when properly addressed will result in better care for patients.

Therapeutic Communication

It is not news that communication is a skill that is valued the most on a caregiver, at least next to active listening. However, not everyone might be aware of therapeutic communication which specific type of communication designed to encourage the patient to carry out the conversation. 

Why should the patient do the talking? Isn’t that tiring for them?

An active mind is a healthy mind. Communication is one of the easiest ways of retaining physical and mental well-being. A YouTube channel by the username SteveB shares regular videos of the nephew (the caregiver) visiting his grandmother (the patient) - who has Alzheimer’s. These videos are perfect examples of how therapeutic communication is used to encourage the patient’s participation in discussions and activities. Open-ended questions keep the discussion entertaining, while reflective responses clarify information and help the caregiver understand the needs of the patient.

Stress Management


Stress is our body’s natural response to difficult situations, be that irritation, anxiety or illness. Patients get stressed and so do caregivers, thus it is essential for caregivers to understand how to manage stress whenever and to whomever it surfaces. Patients may stress at times when they feel sick or tired and as a caregiver, you have to be able to effectively deal with the situation. But, patients aren’t the only ones who get stressed, caregivers - especially those lacking experience - are also subject to stressful situations. Lack of confidence when dealing with an unforeseen situation or the feeling of being overwhelmed are two ways reasons that result in stress. Thankfully, research has established a number of coping strategies to alleviate stress from, both patients and caregivers. 

Common coping strategies or relaxation techniques include deep controlled breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenic exercises. The last one is especially interesting, as it requires the patient to lay down and mumble a number of phrases continuously. These phrases can be unique to your situation, as long as they reinforce the idea that the body can relax by itself.

Time Management and Organization

As a caregiver, you are always on the clock. Working smart and staying organized are two important components that differentiate skilled versus unskilled caregivers. Just like any other job, a caregiver is usually paid an hourly rate based on their level of expertise. Depending on the hours worked, the caregiver will receive his fair compensation, right?

Well, not always. Most independent or agency-hired caregivers do not know the exact hours they work during a particular day. Under the contract, they are required to fulfill the 40-hour workweek but how will they know if they surpassed that number of hours? How do they know that they are being compensated for the right amount?  These are the few questions that the individual should ask themselves.

Meanwhile, what ensures businesses that their caregivers will stay at their job if they feel that they are not valued enough? Questions are raised for both sides when time management is not properly configured. And the absence of a proper timesheet app is the first mistake that many caregivers and their respective businesses face.

Related: Finding a Good Time Tracking Software for your Team

Another common mistake that caregivers make is that they underestimate the possibility of unexpected emergencies. 

But, how can one predict the unexpected?

Nobody can predict the unpredictable but measures can be taken to minimize its impact. Project management concepts, such as slack - which is integrated into the timeline of a project - is designed to give the project some breathing room in terms of deadlines. For example, if a project can be finished in 10 days than a slack of 3 days should be added in case of an unexpected event. 

At the end of the day, delivering a project early is better than delivering it late, right?

What we discussed so far includes only select skills that are thought to be essential for caregivers. Every company looking to hire skilled caregivers in the growing market should text the above skills during the hiring process. At the same time, every independent worker should acknowledge that only through skill can they deliver high-quality care to current and future patients.

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