In Disney's adorable children's film How to Train Your Dragon, a young, misfit Viking boy named Hiccup learns to love the dragons the people in his village are always fighting. He develops a strong personal bond with a charming dragon named Toothless. Despite a long history of warefare between their respective groups, Hiccup and Toothless find that there is a better way. They triumph over ignorance and misunderstanding on the part of the world around them, and their friendship rings true.

The relationship between someone who is being cared for and the caregiver is often in the same realm--surrounded by opposing forces such as communication difficulties and misunderstandings. Therefore, training is vital to the success of both parties. Here are three ways to train the person caring for you or your loved one, much in the way Hiccup and Toothless train one another in the arts of friendship and understanding.

  • Acknowledge the experience and knowledge of both parties.

Caregivers are trained in the day-to-day grind of caregiving, including bathing, eating, medication management, and companionship. Many have years of experience and training. Although the person may be a stranger to you or your loved one, he or she comes to the table with a set of knowledge and skills that you may not have.

Caregivers, much like teachers, work long or odd hours at a job that is notoriously emotionally draining. Like teachers, caregivers must be passionate about what they do in order to continue doing it. This means that they, like you, care about your loved one's quality of living. Much as you work with teachers in the case of children who struggle, working with a caregiver must feature a willingness to acknowledge that everyone is there for one mission: caring for your loved one to the best of your collective abilities.

Caregivers will turn to you for knowledge of your loved one's habits, likes, dislikes, medical needs, etc. Your experience and knowledge of these topics is vital to the quality of care the caregiver will be able to provide.

Make sure you have the full story from your loved one's physicians too. For example, the Alzheimer's Association's 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report states that less than half of Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers are informed of the diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. Such knowledge is crucial to providing quality care for someone suffering from the disease.

  • Communicate your specific goals and desires.

Caregivers often perform different duties depending on their clients. They cannot know what you expect of them until you tell them specifically. Some examples of good, specific, worthwhile communication are:

"I need someone to make sure my father takes his medication and eats according to the diet his doctor gave him in order to manage his diabetes. If you give me a weekly list, I can get groceries for him, but I can't be here to cook every day and check on his meds."

"Mom is getting forgetful about bathing, and sometimes she needs help getting in and out of the shower, but she will not need or want you to bathe her completely. Just remind her and make sure she doesn't fall."

"My husband is recovering from a surgery on his leg and cannot walk on it for several weeks. For now, I need you to assist him in any task that requires him to move from the bed or wheelchair."

Each is specific and outlines the duties of the caregiver, and should be included in any job description.Understanding that the caregiver is there to provide specific services will help you maintain appropriate expectations of their efforts and remain objective when complications arise.

  • Be understanding of obstacles, struggles, and failures.

Some days will not be "good" days. These things happen, and acknowledging that everyone--you, your loved one, and the caregiver--are all trying as hard as you can will go a long way toward working well together. Caregivers are often unappreciated, and, since they care about their clients, they may feel defeated or intimidated by bad days, just as the rest of us do at our jobs. Showing that you understand and accept some amount of failure, given the nature of the job, makes caregivers more comfortable and appreciated.

This is not to say that irresponsibility is to be tolerated. Caregivers should be held to high standards at all times, but allowing for reasonable flexibility will keep everyone calmer and happier.

This is only a beginner's list. Working with a caregiver can be challenging and rewarding if you work together rather than against each other, and it can lead to incredible benefits in the life of your loved one.

Sources

Alzheimer's Association. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. Alz.org. Available at http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp. Retrieved 1/21/2016.

Family Caregiver Alliance. National Center on Caregiving. Hiring In-Home Help. Available at https://www.caregiver.org/hiring-home-help. Retrieved 1/21/2016.

Family Caregiver Alliance. National Center on Caregiving. Working Successfully with Home Care Services. Available at https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-working-successfully-home-care-services. Retrieved 1/21/2016.

Kevorkian, Kristine. (May 8, 2013). How to Hire (And When to Fire) a Caregiver. Forbes.com. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/05/08/how-to-hire-and-when-to-fire-a-caregiver/#4c7add46697a. Retrieved 1/21/2016.

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