How to Become a Great Caregiver

Are you kind, caring, compassionate, and patient? Do you love serving others and a desire to help people, especially the elderly, improve their quality of life? Do you enjoy spending time with older adults? Then you might be interested in how to become a caregiver. In addition to these important character traits, an effective professional caregiver must:

  • Be dependable and act professionally.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively with clients, their families, and other healthcare professionals (and if needed, law enforcement officers or attorneys).
  • Get along well with sometimes-difficult personalities, and be willing to build a positive patient-caregiver relationship.
  • Have mental, emotional, and physical stamina.
  • Have a basic knowledge of health care terms, medical conditions, and medications.
  • Be sensitive to family situations and crises.
  • Follow written orders, leave messages, and understand prescription medication labels.
  • Have reliable transportation and a mobile phone.
  • Be willing to put the health and well-being of the care recipient first.


Managing The Challenges Of Being A Caregiver

Being a professional primary caregiver can be a very rewarding profession, but it can also be challenging. Caregivers work hard for their pay, which is not very much. There may not be any paid leave or other resources, and the hours could be long. It will be important to contract with the right home care agency to receive pay and adequate time off.

A home caregiver, especially someone who has provided long-term care, can be prone to burnout. Care recipients can be demanding, and the work can be physically and emotionally draining. Older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia or mental illness could strain the patience of even the most kind-hearted.

Caregivers must never overlook one important detail: protecting their own mental health and planning their own self-care. If you are a home care aide, you can even receive caregiver training to help you learn how to maintain your energy. Studies have shown that caregivers who have firm spiritual convictions, a belief in loving and serving others, a strong sense of community, and who feel that caregiving is their life calling are the most successful.


What Are The Job Requirements?

Requirements for being a professional caregiver vary depending on the level of training and education desired. Caregivers employed by a home care agency are usually certified nursing assistants (CNAs), home health aides (HHAs), or personal care attendants (PCAs).

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certified nursing assistants are state-licensed nursing assistants with a list of skills under their belt. CNAs have received classroom and hands-on training, passing an exam at the end of their work. They have basic health care education and can help monitor their patients’ medical conditions. They have the widest variety of training (out of CNAs, HHAs, and PCAs). They can dispense the most caregiving services.
  • Home Health Aide (HHA) Home health aides are also state-licensed and must meet the same kinds of requirements as CNAs. However, their health care training is very limited.
  • Personal Care Attendant (PCA) A PCA, also known as a personal care aide, doesn’t need any formal education, usually not even a high school degree. Many states do require that they complete supervised training hours before assuming any caregiving responsibilities.

What Do Care Professionals Do?

Designated caregiver professionals may find jobs in long-term care facilities, VA medical centers, or hospitals. They can also be providers of emotional support, companionship, assisted independence, and assistance for the elderly or disabled who live in their own homes. The assistance in-home caregivers provide usually revolves around the basic activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).

The Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs, refer to six specific tasks of basic self-care:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Transferring
  • Toileting
  • Eating
  • Ambulating

The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, or IADLs, are more advanced activities related to independent living:

  • Managing personal finances
  • Transportation
  • Shopping for food, clothing, and other necessities
  • Meal preparation
  • Housework and home maintenance
  • Managing communication
  • Taking medications

The level of care required is linked to ADLs and IADLs. The following are examples of duties that might be required:

Personal Care

  • Eating: assist in feeding, provide nutritious meals and adequate fluids.
  • Bathing: assist bathing, transferring in/out of tub/shower, bed-baths as needed.
  • Dressing & Grooming: assist with dressing, glasses, hearing aids, special orthotics (i.e., braces), hair care, shaving, oral hygiene.
  • Ambulation: assist walking, safe use of assistive devices, range of motion, and strengthening exercises.
  • Toileting: assist to the bathroom, bedside commode, urinal, bedpan usage.
  • Incontinence: assist in changing diapers, undergarments, pads, related skin care.

Household Tasks

  • Light Housekeeping: clean and keep tidy all living areas.
  • Laundry: wash and change bed linens and launder clothing, etc.
  • Meals: cooking, grocery shopping, food preparation for later meals.
  • Organization: schedule daily tasks and appointments, sort mail, etc.

Transportation, Companionship, And General Safety

  • Drive and escort on errands, shopping, and doctor appointments.
  • Encourage social participation, escort on outings, recreational events, everyday stimulating conversation, and phone call assistance.
  • Supervise in the home to avoid falls, household accidents and ensure easy access to emergency contacts.

Support Doctor-Approved Medical Plan Of Care

  • Help perform prescribed therapy exercises, report progress to the supervisor.
  • Reminders take medications, manage prescriptions.

Salary And Benefits

What Can I Earn As A Home Care Professional?

Caregiver payment rates from in-home care agencies vary by the type of care you are expected to provide, your geographic location, and by your experience, qualifications, and tenure with the agency. In general, a caregiver with 2+ years of professional caregiving experience who cares for a typical client (e.g., an 85 yr old woman who lives alone and needs moderate assistance with ADLs and IADLs) would earn between $10 to $13.50 per hour. A career in caregiving earns $15 an hour in some areas, depending on experience and living cost.

You may want to contact local area agencies to learn what caregiving responsibility looks like near you. They could also give you information about pay in your state.

What Is A Typical Benefit Package?

The agency pays employer taxes which include Social Security, workers’ compensation, and disability insurance. Some agencies also make health insurance contributions, education allowances, and/or reimburse for mileage. Of course, agencies must also comply with all labor, wage, and work-hour regulations, including paying overtime when necessary.

What Hours Will I Work? Are There Flexible Hours Available?

The hours you work vary depending on the individual. Some clients only want or need a few hours of care, a few days a week. Some clients need around-the-clock care. Most agencies have a minimum work requirement (for example, 4 hours a day for 4 days per week). Your agency will discuss the specific hours of care you are expected to provide before accepting any caregiving assignment. The more flexible you are with your hours, the more job opportunities you will have.

Some cases may involve live-in or sleep-over care, where you stay at the person’s house. In those situations, you should be allowed meals and a few hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep.

What Kind of Client Will I Have?

In addition to needing assistance with ADLs, IADLs, and general supervision, most clients also have one or more specific health or psychological conditions related to advanced age. Comorbidity (meaning two or more together) conditions of the elderly include dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, joint replacement, fractures, and osteoporosis. Many also have vision problems such as macular degeneration, and hearing difficulties are common.

An experienced caregiver will most likely have cared for clients with many of these conditions. A new caregiver will begin by caring for clients in need of companionship only or light ADL/IADL care. Your service will probably focus on a person whose family members have had difficulty helping.


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