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Professional Caregiver for Older Adults – Part II: Getting to Know your Elder Client

This is a multi-part series to help in-home professional, non-medical caregivers learn some practical, non-clinical skills on how to approach their day to day professional life. In Part II, we will discuss how to get to know your elder client, communicating with your employer, maintaining your client’s privacy, and how to best manage your cell phone use.

Getting to Know Your Elder Client

Imagine being an older adult and as you get older, having to rely on a series of caregivers from your adult children to a rotating assortment of different caregivers with different names and faces. As caregivers, we need to understand that this is the reality for many of our clients. It’s important to get to know our clients on the very first day, the things that they like and don’t like; this helps them maintain a sense of connection to independence while helping to provide the best professional care. At CareAcademy we believe that you’re not just caring FOR your clients; you’re a team caring WITH your clients to help make sure they can stay at home for as long as possible. No matter if your elder client is fully cognitively intact, very active or even has dementia, on your first day make sure to greet your client and introduce yourself. Make sure to smile keeping your voice warm and inviting. Whether you’re in the home for 2 hours a week or every day, this first impression goes a long way. You are a stranger until they learn more about you and you make an attempt to learn more about them. A great way to get to know clients is to ask them to show you around their home and ask questions. For instance, a caregiver may ask a client living in their home “What is your favorite chair in the living room?” or if you’re putting something away and doing housekeeping, you could ask, “Where should I put this or where does this go?” It is a small way off offering the elder client independence while maintaining the privacy of the client that may not be ready to share with a new caregiver. Even beyond the first day, keep asking questions to make clients feel in control and opening up the lines of communication and trust. Some of the things you can try first day is to ask about likes and dislikes. If you’re making lunch ask your client what are some things that they may like to eat. If an elder client isn’t verbal or able to tell you start taking note of  some of the things that they do like. It can be a good idea to keep a journal of observations that are separate from a care plan to notice small details that may be more about likes and dislikes that help you get to better know and learn a little more about your clients.

Communicating With Your Agency or Employer

Many older clients don’t manage their own care; it’s often left to a family member such as an adult child, spouse, or other family member. Your agency may have software or a calling system and procedures about how you check in. If you have to call in to make sure that your hours are counted as starting work, make sure you do so. One of the things caregivers can do is set two alarms in the morning on a personal cell phone. The first one is to wake up, the other is to make sure that you call in or check in with your agency or clients’ family. It’s easy to get started on your day and completely forget, so make this a priority in order to build trust with your employer and make sure you’re paid for your work. Throughout the working day make sure you return any calls from your clients’ family or agency promptly and if this is your first day on the job, program all necessary phone numbers into your cell phone before you start the day.

Maintaining Your Client’s Privacy and Respect

The first day is always the best day to show how you respect your elder client in words and actions. A professional caregiver thinks about how we care not just for but WITH our clients. To think about the ways that we help care WITH our clients we can try putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes. If you relied on a caregiver for bathing or toileting, how would you want to be treated? Actions speak louder than words and whether or not there is someone else present, make sure to maintain your client’s dignity. Let’s say that you’re bathing an older adult. Make sure to close any doors or curtains before starting to bathe a client. If you’re using a washcloth use several blankets or covers to keep warm and hide any areas that you’re not cleaning. Finally, the best way to maintain dignity is to talk with your clients. Ask questions about how comfortable they may feel for instance, ask if your elder client would like to clean any hard to reach spots themselves. These little cues gives all older adults a sense of autonomy and respect and should be part of getting started the right way.

Being Present and Your Cell Phone Use

It’s very easy in this day and age to stay in contact with anyone from anywhere though smart phones and PDAs. Ironically, this makes it even harder to connect to the people right in front of us. If you’re a parent or have a loved one that seems attached to their cell phone then you know what I mean. Likewise, on the job with our clients we can get distracted by the keeping up with a legitimate distraction like a sick child or just wanting to find out the latest celebrity gossip on Twitter. However, as a professional caregiver one person is depending on you to be present right here and right now: your client. Manage your phone responsibly. If you have a personal family concern make sure family members check in with you at regular intervals to briefly update you, and schedule times strategically to check your phone or call but keep these calls very brief. If you have to be on your phone or get tempted easily, leave your phone in a closet or a place where you’re not checking it constantly. Every time you’re on your phone you’re missing some time to engage with your elder client and just like you would, they know when you’re distracted. Show professionalism in all aspects of your job and make sure to give the client your full attention. Learn more about being a being the best professional caregiver you can with CareAcademy’s new online eldercare course.

Dr. Reddy is a specialist in Internal Medicine & Geriatric Medicine. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School & Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA. She has seen the struggles that families and caregivers go through when caring for adults. Through CareAcademy, she intends to improve people's lives. Dr. Reddy's research is published as journal articles and book chapters. She has also authored a book for family caregivers.

Madhuri ReddyProfessional Caregiver for Older Adults – Part II: Getting to Know your Elder Client

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