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Caring for a loved one with memory loss can be the most fulfilling work you’ll ever do. But, most people aren’t prepared for the many challenges involved. In more than three decades of working with families and training professional caregivers, we’ve learned that the best ones develop a variety of important traits:
Compassion. A caring heart can keep you energized through tough times, and can motivate you to seek training and resources that improve the quality of care you provide.
Composure. Meeting personal care needs like dressing or using the bathroom can be highly uncomfortable. Learning to keep your composure when performing unpleasant tasks is a gift of dignity to anyone receiving care of this nature.
Empathy. Your loved one may feel embarrassed, frustrated or angry as they grow less able to manage their personal needs. Take a deep breath, step back and consider their perspective.
Diplomacy. Your tone of voice and body language say as much as your actual words. Prepare yourself mentally for challenging discussions or negotiations—sometimes for simple matters like meal or activity preferences—to help you communicate with dignity and respect.
Creativity. If your loved one resists necessary activities like bathing, brushing their teeth or even eating, don’t be afraid to get creative: play music, recall a family memory or turn the task into a game.
Humor. The ability to find moments that make you and your loved one laugh is a great skill. Maintaining a sense of humor can help you both through some challenging times, but always make sure to laugh with—not at—your loved one.
Patience. Multiple repetitions of stories or requests can be stressful for even the most patient caregivers. Develop a strategy for handling these situations, and don’t be afraid to step back for a moment.
Self-Kindness. All caregivers occasionally lose their patience or even say something they might regret. Learn to ask for forgiveness (or simply forgive yourself) when appropriate, and move forward, as lingering guilt or remorse can be emotionally draining.
Self-Awareness. Know your limits. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness—it shows you’re working to manage your stress levels to ensure you’re providing the best care possible. Reach out to a friend, family member or even a professional for guidance when needed.