5 Expert Tips for a Successful First Day as a Senior Caregiver

It’s normal to be nervous on your first day on the job. For at-home senior caregivers, in particular, it’s not like you’re walking into a predictable office environment. You’re essentially entering a stranger’s home, where all sorts of unknowns could reveal themselves.

Showing up in someone’s personal space and not knowing what you’re walking into can be an uncomfortable situation for both the client and caregiver, says Amy Fuchs, owner of Elder Expert LLC in Saddle River, New Jersey. A social worker and former caregiver, Fuchs currently works as an independent elderly care consultant.

However, if you can be subtle and courteous, rather than coming across as too strong, and you make an open-minded effort to get to know your customer and their needs from the start, you’ll be more likely to start building a relationship. healthy relationship. working relationship from day one, she said.

Use these expert tips to make your first day as a senior caregiver go as smoothly as possible.

1. Get to know the person in advance

Preparing with some knowledge of the person can help reduce first-day awkwardness and surprises, says Dan Kastner, a former caregiver and current staff coordinator at Mindful Elderly Care in Cary, North Carolina.

Find out what tasks they want help with, whether they’re looking for personal care or more supportive care, what their expectations are and what qualities they look for in a caregiver, Kastner says. Agencies like Kastner’s conduct a thorough assessment of clients and relay that information to their caregivers before beginning work with a new senior. If you work for yourself, ask questions of the client and/or their family members before your first day on the job.

“Be flexible and bring your professional presence. But it’s also important to be warm and empathetic and bring that love and joy.


2. Arrive with the right attitude

The best way to approach a new job as a senior caregiver is to come in with a fresh perspective, be present, and listen to the client and all family members involved. Kastner says the best caregivers take a “student” attitude and act like a sponge: They sit and listen. They are “warm, compassionate and empathetic.”

“As a professional, you have to leave everything at the door, be flexible and bring your professional presence,” he says. “But it’s also important to be warm and empathetic and bring that love and joy.”

Barbara Schuh, vice president of franchise operations for Home care assistance, a senior care agency headquartered in San Francisco, says it’s also important to keep in mind that you’re there to meet more than just the client’s physical or mental needs. Her agency advocates taking a holistic approach to understanding the client’s needs, including emotional and spiritual. So, in addition to helping with daily tasks, they look at how they can improve the client’s overall quality of life, including diet and sense of well-being.

“Approach the client from the point where they have had a full life and we are there to help them in that phase of their life,” she says. “Their physical or mental disabilities or limitations do not define who they are as people. »

And even if you’ve worked with a multitude of clients, it’s important to keep in mind that this may be the first time the family has had a caregiver in the home, Fuchs says. Because this is a completely new experience for many clients, it’s best to approach the situation as if you were a guest in their home, she says.

3. Navigate Family Dynamics Carefully

Pay attention to how the patient and family members interact. “There is a specific dynamic to each house,” says Fuchs. “It is very important to adapt and evaluate the dynamics of each household. »

In many cases, you may be going to a home where there is a healthy spouse and a sick spouse, Fuchs points out. If you are working with a married person, pay attention to the dynamic between the two spouses. Often, it’s the healthy spouse who really needs your support, she explains, and it’s not uncommon for the sick spouse to be reluctant to help. In this scenario, it’s helpful to emphasize that you’re also there to help your healthy spouse.

Fuchs was recently faced with this situation, where the client was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand why she, the caregiver, was there: “I said, ‘I’m just here to help your husband, his back hurts .’ It’s really about understanding that if the person has cognitive disabilities, you need to come up with strategies to help ingratiate yourself to both parties.

Additionally, if the couple always sleeps in the same room, be aware of privacy and respect boundaries, says Fuchs. If you don’t know how to handle this, ask.

You could also be interact with the client’s adult children.

“Sometimes adult children are more of a barrier to the client’s care, so sometimes it’s about managing those relationships,” Schuh says. “It’s about being respectful and feeling them, and asking the adult child what they want to do and what their expectations are.”

“Relationships are built over time if you continue to have an open and honest dialogue. »


4. Ask questions

If you are an experienced caregiver, you may have the gift of intuitively knowing what needs to be done in a given situation. But assuming you know what a senior or their family needs can create problems, especially if there’s a gap between their expectations and what you think they need, Fuchs points out. Even if you have it covered before you start or on the first day, you should explicitly ask the client (or if they have cognitive disabilities, their participating family members).

“It can be as simple as sitting down at the kitchen table and asking them what their needs are, how you can help them, and hearing from them how they can help you rather than assuming you already know what that needs to be done,” she said. “It is very important to hear directly from the family what they are specifically looking for, because the worst thing is to assume without getting complete and accurate information.”

Fuchs recommends asking these starting questions to help build relationships and ensure success:

  • Do you have other family members nearby?
  • What is your daily routine and schedule?
  • How can I help?
  • How can I make your life better, or how can I improve your life?
  • What do you like to do? What are your passions? What brings you joy?

In addition to asking practical questions, it’s also a good idea to ask yourself questions to get to know yourself better, says Schuh.

Strive to be honest and transparent communication with your customer, said Schuh. This way, they will feel heard and can lead the way. “Give them the dignity to decide what they want that caregiver to do; It’s their life,” she says.

5. Ask for feedback at the end of the day

As the day draws to a close, take a few minutes to check in with your client or their family and get feedback on how they are feeling during the first day and see if that aligns with your thinking.

Schuh suggests sitting down and saying, “It was our first shift; how do you think it went? Is there anything you would like me to do differently? »

Kastner also recommends asking, “Is there anything else I can do before I leave today?” »

If your first day didn’t go as well as you hoped, don’t worry. “Reporting won’t happen on day one,” Schuh says. “But it builds up over time if you continue to have an open and honest dialogue.”


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