elderly woman with caregiver

Qualities to Look For in a Caregiver for Your Elderly Loved One

If you have an elderly loved one who requires care, you know how difficult it is to find the right person for the job. Whether your relative is being cared for at home or needs extra assistance in a facility, having someone they can count on is a major factor in improving their quality of life. 

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our principal attorneys, Daniel Surprenant and Michelle Beneski, are both Certified Elder Law Attorneys (CELAs) by the National Elder Law Foundation. They are two of only 30 CELAs in the state of Massachusetts. Our practice prides itself on being tuned in to the needs  — physical, emotional, and financial — of older people and is well aware that if we are lucky enough to live long lives, we will be in that category soon enough.

We have extensive experience dealing with older clients, as well as their children and grandchildren, and are committed to helping them get the very best care possible. Below are characteristics we have found to be essential in first-rate caregivers:


The ability to understand what the other person is going through is critical to being a proper caregiver. Without it, the caregiver will not have the ability to create the necessary bond that forms when the patient feels understood and accepted as an equal.


Older people generally move more slowly than younger ones and often have more mobility and memory issues. That’s a good reason for those tending to them to be patient and respectful if they take a while to eat or get seated or find their phone. While caregivers should be purposeful, they should not be bossy or pushy, and they should have the ability to remain calm in the midst of turmoil. 

Sense of Humor

Laughter is truly the best medicine and a necessity when it comes to relieving stress and maintaining a balanced perspective. With all the difficulties aging brings, if you can’t help the patient laugh about some of them, life can be gloomy indeed. 


Being alert to the patient’s needs, wishes, fears, anxieties, discomforts, and pleasures makes all the difference when it comes to making a connection and providing necessary care. No caretaker should be paying more attention to a magazine or TV show than to your loved one unless your loved one is peacefully asleep.

Ability to Take Charge

Whether the patient becomes upset, has a bathroom accident or has sudden pain, it is crucial that their caregiver knows what steps to take and takes them immediately, whether the situation necessitates a hug, an efficient cleanup, soothing words, a painkiller, or a quick call for medical assistance. The fact that the person on whom the patient depends knows what to do will reassure the patient and may well save their life.

Ability to Set Boundaries and to Speak Up

No one wants an argumentative caregiver, but a good caregiver has to have the ability to speak up when the situation warrants it, e.g. if the patient is doing something that puts them at risk or is nasty or unpleasant or makes unreasonable demands. A good caregiver should always bring important matters relating to patient care, such as changes in the patient’s eating, sleep patterns, or moods to your attention.

Being a Self-Starter

A significant part of being a caregiver is bringing order and activity to the patient’s life. No one flourishes without some kind of routine and some kind of exercise, even if the latter is mostly mental. If the patient isn’t up to reading, perhaps the caregiver can read to them or tell them true or fictional stories. A good caregiver should show the patient interesting pictures, discuss an incident or movie, play a game, do some stretches to music together — anything to enliven the time they spend together. 

Be Interested in the Patient’s Life

Most of all, the caregiver should recognize the patient as a person of interest and make it a point to get to know the patient’s history in terms of family connections, locations, and travel, work, sports activity, military experience, childhood, relationships. Older people, even those with dementia, frequently have vivid memories of long ago that can be tapped for pleasurable, meaningful conversation.

The Takeaway

Caregiving requires more than training in CPR or the Heimlich maneuver. In many ways, those who are most successful as caregivers respond to a kind of calling to this work. Although some of the above-mentioned traits can be encouraged and enhanced, many are deeply ingrained or even inborn. Above all, look for a person who is responsible and kind.