Seniors maintaining independence

Once your family has made the decision to hire a home health aide, there are several steps you can take to ensure it is a successful experience for both the care recipient and the extended family. Recognizing the need for care, accepting assistance and engaging with a homecare agency or nurse registry are tremendous steps in the right direction, but having an appropriate set of expectations and communicating clearly with the homecare company and the aide are just as important to getting care started smoothly.

Setting Appropriate Expectations

Undoubtedly, bringing a stranger into one’s home can be unnerving. This is particularly true for older adults with fairly fixed routines, particularly if cognitive challenges such as dementia or anxiety interfere with their ability to adapt to change.

As a family, it can be helpful to remind the care recipient that the caregiver is new only for the first few days or weeks. While they may be new to the client, if the family is working with a licensed home health agency or nurse registry, the aide will be trained, experienced and fully vetted. While they won’t yet know your spouse’s or parent’s preferences and routines, they typically have the background on the client’s needs that were provided to the homecare company.

Both the care recipient and any involved family members should familiarize themselves with what a home health aide is and isn’t qualified to do. A non-medical caregiver can assist with:

  • Personal care, such as help with bathing, shaving and washing hair
  • Homemaker services, including housecleaning, laundry and light yard work
  • Meal preparation, such as chopping, cooking and serving meals
  • Physical support with walking, exercising or transferring positions
  • Errands such as shopping, banking and picking up prescriptions
  • Transportation to medical appointments or social events
  • Engagement in games and puzzles
  • Taking care of pets
  • Companionship
  • Medication reminders

A home aide is not typically expected to, and in some instances may not, by regulation:

  • Fill pillboxes
  • Administer IVs, transfusions or change ostomy bags
  • Design exercises targeting speech, physical or occupational rehabilitation
  • Do deep cleaning or sanitizing housework
  • Serve as a personal assistant in business or financial matters

If these are services your loved one needs, the homecare agency or nurse registry you are working with can likely send a registered nurse or therapist to provide these services.

Establishing Routines

For many clients and families who are new to homecare, it can be challenging to figure out the right number of hours to take at the outset. Unless there is a clear need for more – for example, overnight or live-in care – we typically recommend beginning with a few hours per day three times a week. Clients often prefer these hours be in the morning so that assistance can be provided with bathing, dressing, household chores and possibly getting out for an excursion, with afternoon and evening meals prepared prior to the aide’s departure.

In determining an appropriate schedule, it can be helpful to list out all of the things the client (or family) wants to achieve on a weekly basis that may require the caregiver’s assistance. These goals can include exercise, getting out to the clubhouse or to a card game, laundry and linen changes, grocery shopping, and tidying up the house. Add to these items the daily tasks such as dressing, showering, meal prep and walking a dog (if necessary). It is often instructive to add up the time estimated to accomplish these activities when thinking about the number of home health aide service hours to take in a week. One of the best things about homecare services is that the number of hours can change as needs evolve, so families should not overly stress about “getting it right” at the outset.

One helpful tool in helping a caregiver acclimate to a new client is for the senior of their family to write out a daily or weekly schedule. No detail should be considered too small – when the care recipient prefers to shower, when they like to have a snack or any standing social activities are important for the aide to know up front to avoid any frustrating misses. Setting a daily or weekly schedule also ensures that the aide always has things to do or prepare for and avoids anyone feeling like the time together is being wasted.

Be Patient, But Communicate

During the first few weeks, there will inevitably be miscues. Talking about these with the aide will help prevent them in the future. Try to help your loved one understand that the caregiver wants to learn what they like and adapt – that they are not coming in to try to run their lives or reduce their independence.

If you have concerns about the aide’s abilities to keep your loved one safe, speak with the homecare company you are using immediately. This may arise from language barriers or simply physical strength requirements that were not communicated to the staffing professional. 

Most frequently, a family that requests re-staffing does so for “softer” reasons – for example, the senior wants to do the crossword puzzle quietly but the aide is an extrovert who arrives each day eager to engage in conversation. We strongly believe that “there is a lid for every pot”, and that a care recipient is entitled to find their right match. Oftentimes, the disruption caused by re-staffing can be avoided if the family interviews one or more home health aides before the start of care. Most homecare agencies and nurse registries are happy to facilitate this.

Other Tips for Making Your Home Care Experience a Success

Seniors and families who are most likely to have successful long0term relationships with their caregivers often take several of the following steps, as well:

  • Make a list of important contacts, including family members, physicians and nearby friends
  • Compile another list of any prescribed medications, including name, dosage, timing and whether before or after eating
  • If the elderly individual doesn’t know how to get to a doctor’s office or other important location, have someone get clear directions for the caregiver. Addresses are a good first step, but directions are even better
  • If you have been the primary caregiver prior to the arrival of the aide, make a plan for transitioning yourself out of the home while the aide is there, at least after the first day 
  • Let the aide know what your loved one likes to do, be it a favorite TV programs, a senior center, cards, puzzles, or anything else
  • If you have been doing the grocery shopping for your loved one, go with the aide the first time to the market so that he or she can learn what products and brands your relative prefers
  • Let the caregiver know what types of foods you or your loved one like, how you want them prepared and at what time do you want the meals to be served
  • Make sure to tell the aide of your allergies to foods or medication

Remember, when you hire a caregiver from a licensed homecare company, the aide they refer will be screened, trained and experienced – just not with your loved one in their home. It may take a couple of visits for the relationship to “click”, but once it does, the care recipient’s quality of life will improve dramatically.

If things just don’t mesh with the aide who is providing care, let the company know immediately so that a change can be made; everyone is different so sometimes it takes more than one matchmaking attempt. 

If you or your loved one lives in South Florida and is exploring home care options, contact one of our care specialists to discuss how to ensure a successful experience with your home health aide.