Caring for seniors in long-term care can be rewarding, but at times overwhelming. Balancing the role of a professional and caring person can be difficult, but with awareness it can be done. Surprisingly, many of these simple changes to our routines don’t need to involve expensive training or equipment. With a little effort, we can fulfill our goal of helping our senior patients enhance their quality of life with dignity and purpose while remaining professional.

For those newer to the industry, the following suggestions can improve a caregiver’s ability to help seniors improve their quality of life and activities of daily living:

Remember patients need courtesy and respect. This is essential to improving a resident’s happiness and quality of care, because even on those trying days when a person is especially stubborn or in a grumpy mood they still needed to be treated with kindness. 

Revisiting the basic procedure for entering a patient’s room, helping them respect their privacy while changing clothing or voiding, and remembering to speak with a polite voice can go a long way to improving resident dignity.

Promote resident dignity and independence in the dining hall. One of the biggest complaints from residents often involves the food. 

Maybe they don’t approve of the quality or the menu, but a few easy changes can drastically improve a senior’s dining experience. One idea is to provide napkins instead of bibs, or allow them to order from a menu if possible. Little changes can make a big difference in how meals are received.

Practice good hygiene and sanitation practices. It is important to let the residents see us wash our hands when we enter the room. This act offers reassurance that we are mindful of germs. Cover your cough and avoid touching your face.

Join a caregiver support group. Working in healthcare often requires us to keep a lot of our daily activities confidential. However, networking with others in a similar situation can help avoid feelings of isolation, build stronger relationships, and learn new techniques for helping our seniors who are in our care. By finding a support system, we can manage our stress and improve in our profession as a caregiver.

Act confident. Have you heard the saying, “Fake it until you make it.”? This is especially true when caring for others. If a resident feels you are competent, they will typically respond to your position as a professional caregiver more favorably. If you act unsure or hesitate, a resident will doubt your capabilities and knowledge.

Include strength and flexibility exercises to increase or maintain current mobility. Experts urge older adults to be as active as possible for improving their physical and mental health. Even our bedridden and most reluctant patients can benefit from stretching and moving. Look for beginner yoga poses or basic seated exercises to help seniors stay active, stretch muscles, increase flexibility, and develop stability.

Document, document, and document. Write or chart everything you do with a resident ranging from routine care, activities like walking down a hall, or what tasks a resident did by himself. This will help the senior receive better care from doctors and other caregivers by giving an accurate mental and physical portrait of a resident’s capabilities.

Smile! Smiling is universally calming and can help anyone get through a challenging day. Remember that our residents have feelings and want to be treated just like we would any friend or relative. Remaining positive can help many seniors in long-term care get through restless nights, deal with nasty side effects of medicine, or boost their morale when they feel alone. Besides our scrubs, our smile is the best thing we can wear!

Mark Kirkpatrick is a freelance journalist.