How to Win An Elderly Person's Trust--Tips from and Elder Companion (Guest Post)

Getting senior citizens to trust you as their caregiver

Sometimes the elderly have a reputation for being a bit irritable. This trait can manifest itself quite strongly when seniors are placed in the hands of new caregivers, companions or medical staff. 

Care providers may face a tough first week (or longer) being met with distrust, dislike, and ill-temper from their new patients. So, how do you break the ice and make friends with the seniors you've come to help? 

Today's guest post talks about just that. Leah has worked with seniors for over 20 years, as a home health worker, nursing assistant, and personal companion. She gives her best tips on winning the trust of the elderly below: 

My first job as a personal companion to a senior began 9 years ago. Having worked in the health care industry for quite some time, primarily with the elderly, I felt seasoned and well-prepared to take on this new caregiving role.

I was hired by a lovely-yet-frazzled middle-age gentleman, "Dan", to be a day companion to his aging mother, "Judith". Dan was acting as primary caregiver since his father passed away two years before.

Although he enjoyed caring for his mom, he reluctantly admitted that she was growing more irascible daily, as well as more dependent on him to help her with her daily needs.

Since Dan couldn't afford to quit his job, he had hired a series of people to sit with his mother during the day, and all but one other lady had quit after only a few days.

I hate to say it but whatever stereotypes exist about "grouchy old ladies", Judith fit them all. She was highly suspicious, she threw insults, and she accused everyone of any crime she could think of.

 When she wasn't testing the limits of caregiver patience, she was sitting by the window making insulting remarks about people walking on the sidewalk outdoors. She told me on the first day that she was going to run me off, but I was determined to be the stubborner person.

It wasn't easy, but eventually Judith and I developed a strong bond, and I remained her caregiver until she passed away three years later. She was the toughest elder I ever won over, but she wasn't the last. These are my tried-and-true tips for anyone who works with seniors in any setting:

1. Get to The Root of the Problem

Why are some elderly people suspicious and angry at caregivers? There could be a number of reasons:

a. They have so many care providers come and go that they don't want to get attached.

b. They are physically uncomfortable.

c. They may be depressed, or just scared about this new stage in their life where they need stranger care.

d. They may have the beginnings of Alzheimer's or dementia

e. They may not fully understand what is happening

f. They resent their loss of privacy and independence

Those are just a few. In Judith's case, she resented losing first her husband, then her own independence. When her son could no longer provide 100% of her care, she thought that a hired companion was only in it for the paycheck. Ironically, to test her caregivers to see if they liked her for her own sake, she was being as unlikeable as possible!

She felt that a companion or caregiver that tolerated all the abuse was a "truly" good person. It wasn't the best way to find out, but it was what felt important to her, and the loss of all the other caregivers seemed to validate her theory.

2. Find a Solution

If possible, see if there is a way to "fix" whatever bothers the person you are caring for. It could be something easy, like respecting their schedule. One gentleman complained that all the home companions were too noisy.

Eventually, it was discovered that he liked to nap after a meal, and the sound of cleaning up during that time disturbed him greatly.

By working with the family and creating a more flexible schedule (the companion didn't wash dishes until after the gentleman's nap), everyone was happy. The man learned that his new caregiver was willing to take his needs into consideration.

3. Be There

To win trust, the first step is to say you will be there for someone. And then be there for them. This means not just being there on days you are supposed to be there, but being available at other times. Make sure the family has your number and let them know that if they need you for even an hour or so, you will do your best to be there.

This isn't always possible, but do so as often as you can.

The more they see you, the more they will trust you.

4. Surprise Them

Once you've worked with a person for awhile, show up sometimes off the clock. Bring them a small gift or a card, or just drop by to ask about them. Make a phone call. This was key in winning over Judith. If I drove past her house, I would take ten minutes to stop and check in on her.

I wasn't paid for these visits, but I wanted her to know that if she ever needed me, I would be there for her.

If you do want people to trust you, and you do truly care for them (which I hope you do in this job!) then building that trust is crucial. It means they may tell you something that they keep hidden from a family member (a health issue that could save their life), that they might call you right away instead of waiting hours if they are hurt, or scared, or sick.

5. Listen to Them

Oh, how I hate the false cheerful conversations between caregivers and their people. "Oh really, Ms. Brown? That's nice. Now let's move you to this chair."


This might be the only way in certain facility settings, but if you care for a person in their home, then you should really take the time to get to know them. All those things you know about your own parents or grandparents or friends:

  • Their favorite color
  • Their favorite season
  • What they like to watch or listen to
  • Their family member's names
  • Their birthday
  • What they did in the past as a profession or hobby

All those things that make a person an amazing individual, not just "an elderly person".

If that person is lucid, then don't rely on their relatives to supply you with what they like, want or hate. Get it from them personally. 

6. Let Them Know You

This is tricky. A lot of advice (and sometimes policy) says that you should keep your life completely private and share no details. I disagree wholeheartedly.

I don't think you should come in and unburden all your troubles or gossip on the people you care for, but they aren't going to trust you if they don't know anything more about you than your name.

Often, they just want to find something in common with you, such as whether you have children, where you were born, what your favorite things are. Use discretion, and don't share anything too private, but at least let them know you are another human being.

7. Don't Argue With Them

You don't have to agree, but you don't have to argue either. If they start an argument, or make an accusation to start an argument, then you have to handle the situation professionally.

It's always possible that they make a statement, accusation or assumption because they truly believe it. (Especially in cases of dementia)

They could just be baiting you to see how you will react. "Arguing" can also be defined as denying accusations, defending yourself or your beliefs about something, opposing an opinion or statement they offer up, etc.

They could just really love to argue. If this is the case, eventually you will probably learn to enjoy good natured debates with them, but not in the beginning.

Rather than argue, diffuse the situation by:

  • Agreement--If it is logical

  • Distraction--make a new statement or change the subject if it seems like you are being baited. 

  • Validating their concern--focus on the reason they are saying what they say, not what they are saying.

  • Handing it Back-- this is my personal term for asking them what you can both do to fix a situation they dislike. 

8. Let the Insults Slide 

Occasionally you will care for someone who has unlimited insults. They may insult your size, shape, name, color, accent, methods, manners, work, clothing, etc. Or they may insult others and try to get you to agree with them.

Sometimes you can find out what is really bothering them and come up with a solution (as mentioned above). Sadly, sometimes the person is just being the same person they've always been, and its very unlikely they will change.

You have to have a thick skin. Don't let them bait you into an argument, and don't stoop to countering with more insults.

9. Be Amazing!

Does that seem impossible? It isn't! An amazing caregiver is someone who:

  • Takes time to listen and learn 
  • Remembers they are caring for another human
  • Respects that person's opinions, likes, and dislikes
  • Shows affection and kindness
  • Uses lots of patience and understanding
  • Laughs 
  • Gives just a little more than they have to
  • Stays a few steps ahead

By staying ahead, I mean learning enough about that person that you can predict when they need a listening ear, having the things they want ready before they ask, remembering their important dates before they have to mention them, etc.

Hopefully that helps both new and seasoned caregivers with "grumpy" seniors. Just remember, they are probably only trying to test your character to see how much you really care. No words will ever speak as loudly as your actions, so show all the care and love you can.

Bonus Tip: (Leah sent this as an afterthought and it is a wonderful idea) When caring for a person who is a shut-in, take lots of photos of interesting or pretty things before you go to work.

Start the day by piquing their curiosity "Guess what I saw today?" and share the photos to help break the ice and open up some discussions.

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photo source: Pixabay