By Shelley Matthes, RN-BC, BSN, RAC-CT , Director of Quality Improvement at Ecumen
What does it take to be an outstanding Alzheimer’s care professional? The answer goes so much farther than simply showing up on time, being competent or even having a good work ethic. Below are 10 characteristics that we look for and stress at Ecumen. What is clear is that it takes a very special person to be an Alzheimer’s care professional. What characteristics or traits would you add to this list?
1. They have a positive outlook on life and a can-do attitude. When you’re working in Alzheimer’s care, attitude is everything. There can be times where you’re mystified as to why a person entrusted in your care is expressing himself or herself a certain way. But even when one’s patience is being tested, the very best care professionals know a better moment will eventually occur, and they know that they are in a very special position to help make it happen. The best care team members see their work as an honor and a calling.
2. They take a wider and deeper person-centered approach vs. a more narrow task-oriented approach. The person-centered care team member is focusing on the person’s wants and needs, trying to find what’s at the base of those needs, and trying to find ways to meet them, rather than simply working off a checklist. It’s highly relational care.
3. They possess common sense, calmness and great compassion, three traits that can’t be taught. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s could think he’s leaving for work and has to catch a train to get to his job. A great care team member uses common sense and doesn’t seek to “correct” this person. Rather than correcting him, the care professional calmly and compassionately honors this person by participating in their reality and meeting the person where he or she is. So, for example, in this case the care team member might sit down with the person and discuss what is on the work agenda today and “prepare” for the train ride without every stepping foot outside the person’s residence.
4. They are proactive, persistent, committed and resilient. They don’t give up on the people in their care, even when a person experiences substantial mood swings. If a certain care technique or approach does not work, they will proactively try something different. They feel a great sense of accomplishment when they see they have truly connected with a person in their care. And it happens frequently.
5. They enjoy the humor in life. They laugh at themselves and with others (you’ll find a lot of laughter among the best care teams). Laughter releases endorphins, relaxes muscles and improves the feeling of wellness that last in the body’s system. Encouraging frequent laughter with the residents is a big part of creating those moments of happiness.
6. They do not take a person’s behaviors personally. They realize that mood swings, severe agitation and other “behaviors” are an expression of the person, typically because they are disturbed by something or there is an unmet need. Instead of taking these expressions personally, they put on their detective hat to try to learn what is spurring the behavior or try different approaches that help to redirect and calm the person.
7. They are inquisitive and enjoy problem solving. These are two more traits that just can’t be taught. For example, great care professionals want to know “who” the person entrusted in their care is and “what” has been important to that person throughout their life. If a person is “acting out,” they want to uncover “why” and determine “how” they can help the person experience calm.
8. They are highly collaborative. In many ways, caregiving is being part of the ultimate team. You need the partnership of others to learn about the person entrusted in your care, to spot patterns and anomalies, to learn about new progress the person is making or about reactions to something the person didn’t like. You share best practices and new learning with each other with the whole focus of continually improving to make a person’s life better.
9. They are extremely perceptive. Emotional Intelligence is very important. Our team members are able to pick up on non-verbal cues to identify how a person is feeling or proactively sense how they can help a person. Even if they can’t determine why a certain behavior is happening, they are able to perceive when something they are doing is working and helping the person experience contentment.
10. They ensure that they take good care of themselves. Alzheimer’s care is incredibly hard work. It takes a great deal of energy to be continually present, perceptive and person-centered. Top Alzheimer’s care professionals know that to provide great care they must take care of themselves, so they have energy and stamina for this all-important work.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what makes a great care team member. You can share in the comments section below. Thank you!