Who is this person caring for my parent?: How to spot a good caregiver.
One of the hardest jobs I had was as the director of a dementia unit. I won’t go into details about why it was hard, but I will go into the details of why it was so rewarding. Aside from being able to work with people with dementia everyday, I had the opportunity to work with 20+ inspiring Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and Registered Medication Aides (RMAs). Today, I want to share a piece of their work-life with you and help you learn how you may be able to spot a good CNA.
For those who don’t know, a CNA is the person who typically provides the direct care to your loved one when they are in a facility. Often, if you hire someone in the home they are a CNA or a Personal Care Aide (PCA). Registered Medication Aides are CNAs with extra training and certification to be able to administer medications. They also provide hands on care. In other words, they are the family your parents have in a dementia unit.
One day, I was sitting in my office and saw a resident hitting and screaming at one of my staff. I watched for a moment and when I came out to intervene, the resident hugged me and started crying. The staff member expressed concern and I attempted to coach her. However, this was a red flag to me.
This resident was “difficult” but with some warmness and love, care was able to be provided by almost anyone else.
I started following this staff member around and popping in when she least expected me. I saw that she did not have a nice demeanor with this resident. Granted, sometimes the simple way you look pisses a resident off. Perhaps you remind them of someone they hate. I had a resident who HATED Anderson Cooper. She’d FLIP every time he came on the TV. Anderson Cooper never did anything to her! However, that was not the case in this situation.
I’ve said it many times before but I’ll say it again: A person with dementia may forget what you said but they won’t forget how you made them feel. That amygdala is still workin’!
Here are some things you may not know about CNAs and RMAs, that I learned from working with them:
- Most work 2 jobs at least. So that means they are usually working 5 days a week for 16 hour days. Some work every weekend too! On average, a CNA or RMA works 80 hours per week.
- Since they are working two different jobs, that doesn’t include overtime.
- Most CNAs and RMAs make between $10-$17/hour.
- While they clock out for their breaks, they rarely get to have an uninterrupted break.
- They may not be able to go to the bathroom for hours, so they avoid drinking water sometimes.
- They have families of their own they’re providing for.
- They are with your families more than they’re with their own.
- They cry when a resident is hurt or dies because they are sincerely sad and they say a permanent goodbye to more people than most of us will in our entire lives
- Even when they’re sad, they continue to care for every other resident with a smile on their face and love in their heart. They’re resilient.
The most common concerns I heard from family members were about the cleanliness of the apartment, a stain on a resident’s shirt, the laundry not put away the correct way, or missing items, etc. I was often asked why the staff doesn’t know that these things need to be done a certain way. Here is the simple answer: The “staff” did not become a CNA or RMA to focus on laundry, or a stain on a shirt. They chose this career path and they chose to work with people with dementia because they love them and want to make their lives better!
When you’re curious to see if someone is a good CNA or RMA, look away from the dirty laundry and the unmade bed. Look at your parents and ask yourself:
- Are they having so much fun in an activity that they’re angry when someone asks them to come to the bathroom?
- Are they looking to come home to the dementia unit?
- Do they ask for a particular person by name, even if they don’t remember their face?
- Do they seem to remember a person’s face but not their name?
- If you suggest they do something, do they look to a staff member to ask what they think they should do? In other words, do they trust them for guidance?
While I do agree that cleanliness and dignity is important, when all’s said and done, your sibling, parent, or grandparent isn’t going to remember the dirty laundry in the corner of the room or if there was a stain on their shirt. So if your parent is comfortable and happy, try to cut the staff a little slack and give them an extra hug for loving your family as much as you do.