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Professional Caregiver for Older Adults – Part I: Responsibilities

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 I, we will focus on the definition and responsibilities of a professional caregiver and explore how to approach your first day on the job. Whether you’re an experienced caregiver or brand new, your clients always present new challenges to grow and learn.

Professional Caregiver Definition

Let’s start with defining what exactly it means to be a professional in-home, non-medical caregiver. A professional caregiver is someone whose career is to assist another person in a way that enables them to live as independently as possible. Professional caregivers can go by many different job titles.  Home health care refers to care provided in the home by a licensed medical professional, such as a nurse or physical therapist. Non-medical in-home care focuses on helping older adults with the daily activities they need to engage in life and remain safe and healthy. Professional caregivers who do not have a medical license generally can perform these tasks like feeding, bathing, and have an extremely important job since they are on the front lines and provide direct care.   Being a professional caregiver can be a rewarding career, but is also heavy and hard work, tiring and lonely if you are not prepared. Our goal is to help you learn professional skills so that you can feel confident whether you’re a veteran refreshing your skills or you’re new to caregiving.

Profesional Caregiver Responsibilities

What you can and cannot do as a professional caregiver depends on two main factors:  The first, who your employer is, and the second being the setting where you are working. Remember that each agency has its own policies and procedures, so what you do when working for one agency may not be the same as what you are allowed do for another agency; and always refer to your handbook or your hiring manager when you run into those gray areas. Your responsibilities are different depending on the care setting where you are providing care: a private home, assisted living, or a skilled nursing facility. In a home, you will usually be helping with personal care (such as grooming and bathing) and helping the older adult remain as independent as possible (by helping with such things as meal preparation and light housekeeping). Being a professional caregiver means having high professional standards. Your behavior, professionalism and boundaries affect your relationship with your clients. Let’s take a look at everything that you can do to make the first best impression with the a day in the life of a caregiver.
  • Appearance Let’s say that it’s your first day of meeting a new client. As professional caregivers, every meeting of a new client is like a new job interview. Make sure to maintain a high standard of personal health, hygiene and professional physical appearance. This can mean different things for different people but for a caregiver it generally means: keep your hair kempt, wear small or no jewelry, wear clean and professional clothes (for example, slacks and a shirt or sweater that isn’t tight or revealing) and closed toes shoes. Packing an extra set of clothes for the day is often a good idea – there are so many things that may happen throughout the day with your clients and you want to be prepared to stay clean and comfortable.
  • Arriving in Your Client’s Home On the first day, think about how to make the situation as comfortable for the client and yourself as possible. Try and arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to get a chance to meet anyone at the home whether it is someone from the agency or a family member. Typically, someone will be there to meet you and get you started. If you have personal items like purses and backpacks, you might want to leave them in your car or in the client’s front closet to avoid forgetting anything or any confusion between your things and the client’s personal things.
  • Washing Your Hands The importance of washing your hands can never be overstated and it is something you should be prepared to do throughout the day. Before you start your first day, take 30 seconds to wash your hands before you begin working with your client. By the time you arrive at the home, you’ve touched a lot of surfaces and your clients who are often older may be at risk for infection. Wash your hands to make a first strong impression and also to keep you and the older adult healthy. Make sure that you get underneath those fingernails too!
Learn more about being a professional caregiver 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 I: Responsibilities

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