Becoming a new professional caregiver, whether you’re taking care of an elderly parent, an adopted child or a disabled individual, is one of the hardest things you can do in life. It can also be one of the most rewarding if you’re sufficiently prepared to take on the responsibility.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is ask questions. Talk to other caregivers, family members and medical professionals to prepare for your new responsibilities.  So what are some common questions new caregivers are afraid to ask — and why should you ask them anyway?

1. What Does Being ‘Present’ Mean?

It’s a phrase you will hear frequently as a caregiver: being “present” whenever you’re with the person you’re caring for. But what does that really mean?

Being present means making sure all of your attention is on the moment and on the time you’re spending with the person you’re caring for. Put away the cell phone and don’t worry about anything else other than just spending time with your charge.

If it helps you stay in the moment, try practicing mindfulness. Not only does this ensure that you’re constantly taking care to pay attention to the person you’re caring for, but it also gives you additional tools to keep the stress of the job from negatively affecting you in your personal life.

2. Do I Need to Ask Permission?

Caregivers often ask this question: “Do I need to ask permission to do my job?” The answer is almost always “yes.” Individuals who need the assistance of caregivers often feel like they don’t have control over their lives, so if you are caring for them, no matter where they are located, asking permission can help make them feel more comfortable and more in control.

There are some situations where asking permission isn’t feasible, but in general you should ask questions or at least inform your patient of what you’re doing.

3. How Do I Deal With Family Members?

You will likely need to deal with your patient’s family on a regular basis, especially if you’re helping the same person multiple times per week. Family, of course, always takes priority. How you handle these encounters depends largely on what your responsibilities are. If you’re a volunteer just visiting patients, ask if the family or the patient would like you to join them. If they don’t want you to join in, bow out graciously and come back another day.

If you are a caregiver who also serves as a nurse, then take care of your responsibilities and, again, take your leave respectfully. You still have to do your job, but you don’t need to stay any longer than you’re welcome.

4. What Is an Average Day Like?

This is a loaded question because it will depend greatly on your responsibilities. For a volunteer caregiver, your average day may be made up of nothing more than having conversations with patients or doing small things around the house, like making coffee or making a sandwich for the patient. For a nurse caregiver, your day could include everything from laundry and helping your patient shower to in-home physical therapy, in addition to keeping your patient company.

Don’t be afraid to ask an experienced caregiver what tools they use to track completed tasks, as there are many methods for keeping track of volunteer work.

5. How Do I Address Existential Questions?

Existential questions are part of growing older. Questions like, “Why am I still here?” or “Would they be better off without me?” might seem like they need an answer, but it can be a difficult to know what to say — and whether there’s even a right answer to be given.

Studies have found that being present and confirming the patient’s belief without agreeing or disagreeing with it can be beneficial, especially for patients who are close to death. It isn’t always the best option, but it can make your patient feel more comfortable, which is the entire point.

6. What Should I Do If They Ask Me to Leave?

Again, this will depend on your responsibilities as a caregiver. If you’re a volunteer caregiver and just visiting, if your patient asks you to leave, then do so. It’s as simple as that. If you have additional responsibilities, however, it becomes more difficult.

You want to do everything you can to ensure your patient is comfortable, but if they have medical conditions or medication that requires your timely attention, the trick is to complete your responsibilities quickly and then do as they ask.

7. What About Hospice Care?

Hospice care is necessary but extremely emotional, especially for the family of the patient. If taking care of hospice patients is part of your responsibility, it’s important to keep that in mind. Being a hospice volunteer or a hospice nurse is one of the hardest things you can do, but it’s so important to be there for your patients and their families.

Be caring and empathetic, but don’t make generalizations like, “They’re in a better place.” Not only do they sound trite and cliché, but it could anger the patient’s family by making it sound like you don’t actually care about their ailing family member.

In closing, remember that becoming a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, even if you do it on a volunteer basis. But it isn’t easy. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask questions.  Even if the answers are hard to hear, asking them will help shape you into a better caregiver and put you in a position where you can do the most good for people who need a little bit of extra care.

Written by Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews writes about medical technologies and news developments for publications like The Week, BioMed Central and Kareo's Go Practice Blog. To read more posts by Kayla, visit her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her website:

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