Monday, 1 December 2014

10 Tips for Meeting an Elderly Person at their Home for the First Time

An Aged-Care Worker's Guide to Meeting New Clients

I thought it might be helpful to list some essential pointers for that first 'meet 'n' greet' with your new aged-care client at their front door.  That brief, but impressionable moment where you get to introduce your amazing self and plant the seed for a future mutually respectful relationship.  

Hopefully too, you can put your Client at ease - remember, they will be Nervous Nellies too. 

So seize that small window of time and make it really count.  Although take note: if your client suffers from memory loss issues, you may be doing these steps all over again - and again - and again......every time you visit them.


Aged Care Worker Visits
Ding Dong, 
anyone home?

1.   Greet your new client with the biggest SMILE you can muster
Add a hearty ‘smile’ in your voice along with the smile on your dial and it may just be enough to knock the wind out of a potentially bad-tempered elderly client’s sails - before they've even realised. 

Nip it in the bud kinda thing. What have you got to lose?  

2.   Use formal address
Make a promise to yourself as a professional carer, to always use your client’s official title, especially for that initial meeting eg: Mr Smith or Mrs Jones (yes, stating the obvious, I know).  

Or if you are unsure of their marital status (you will come across the odd hard-nut spinster out there who’s never married but who will soon let you know if you dare assume she’s a Missus) - in this case, it’s best to opt for the full name approach 

For example:  “Hello... Marjorie Brown, is it?”

And as daunting as it may seem, you should at least attempt to pronounce all your client’s surnames – even the curly ones that contain just about every letter in the alphabet!

I will never forget standing outside Mrs Gina Kantezkantopituolos’s front steps in a cold sweat at the thought of insulting her by stuffing up her name and having her hate me forever.  She told me later that she’d actually appreciated me having a crack (as feeble as it was) as most people never even tried.  

Usually she was known as ‘Mrs K’ anyway, "for efficiency's sake", she said.  Gina and I however, eventually got on so fabulously that she insisted I call her by her first name. 

Phew, problem solved.

3.   Introduce yourself  
You'll discover as you become more experienced and worldly, that some of your more frail or unwell clients may have a whole army of  carers, case workers, nurses, health professionals, specialists and home support people coming and going on any given day of the week. 

So to avoid confusion or client embarrassment it is vital that you clearly state your name, rank and serial number when you meet for the first time.  That is before you launch into your work.  

Also, say where you are from and what you intend to do to them!  There is nothing worse than arriving with your bucket and mop to do a Home Care duty only to discover your client has since stripped off down to her petticoat in anticipation of having a wound dressing changed by what she thought was the District Nurse instead.  

Not that that’s ever happened to me. 


Not at all, she said...

4.   Determine if your elderly client understands you
This is not as silly as it sounds.  And an experienced carer can determine a lot about someone who appears to be hard of hearing or can’t comprehend what is happening and what you are babbling on about.  

You’ve got several logical explanations:
  • your client is deaf (the rational and most common one)
  • your client is foreign and their English isn’t flash
  • your client is unwell
  • your client is cranky and in a very, very, very bad mood  (is it too late to run away?)

The answer for all of these situations is to slow your speech down, maintain eye contact and modify your voice and tone accordingly. You can find out later on what the real story is. 

Use hand actions if you need to and don’t be afraid to yell.  I can spend entire days bellowing at elderly clients who have hearing issues only to get home at the end of the day and continue the trend with my family...aren't they lucky!

5.   Compliment your client
One of the best bits of never-fail advice I can offer all budding carers is that you need to find something about your new client to compliment them on.  


It could be that their hair or make-up looks nice, you love the sparkly buckle bits on their handbag, they’re wearing a pretty-coloured lipstick or they've had a haircut and are looking exceptionally spruced up.  

But if you're really struggling to find something nice to say about your client, then admire the lovely photo of their grandchildren, the beautifully manicured lawn or the fabulous blooms on the camelia bush.   
Whatever, but find something.  

Older people feel proud and pleased with themselves when they are told they have something that others might appreciate or find attractive.  And it’s a superb way to break the ice and show that you at least seem interested in them. 

Who knows, you might even CARE for goodness sake!

Elderly people love Camelias
Gee, look at the gorgeous 
colour on YOU!

6.   Acknowledge your client’s spouse
As an observant carer, it’s important to be aware that your new client may live with a spouse (or other family member such as a son, daughter, niece etc). These onlookers can offer valuable insight on the person whom you may be about to shower or spend time with in, say, a Respite capacity while their regular family caregiver has some time away from the house.

It is in your best interests, therefore, to butter-up these people and get them on side. They have a whole plethora of useful information about your client that will make your job easier; information that you won’t find on the Care Plan or in the medical notes.

For example:  
  • Mum only likes using the pink towels… never the green ones as they were Dad’s towels and she will get upset if you try and use them for her shower
  • When you take Uncle Reg on his walk to the library… he loves going via the paddock so he can say hello to the horses on the way.  He needs to stick to this routine or he will get quite moody and then we will ALL pay later tonight!!
Little stuff like that, but it's important stuff. And it's stuff that will help you develop a good healthy rapport and eventually, a trusting relationship with your client AND with their live-in family.

7.   Acknowledge pets
Older peeps just LOVE it when you show interest in their animals and I can guarantee you, every time a coconut... they will instantly like any carer who does this.  

I’ve broken down many a barrier by patting the mangiest of dogs, admired ugly, weepy-eyed cats and even whistled at the odd tatty budgie in its cage. Fake it til you make it, don’t they say? 

It’s definitely worth it in the end, so do whatever it takes - scratch flea-bitten ‘ol Yella behind the ears, win over the confidence of your brand new judgmental client… and disinfect yourself in the car later!

Old People and their Pets
And hello to you, Goldilocks!

Acknowledge old people's pets
Looking good, 

8.   LISTEN to your client
Every aged-carer knows that Communication is what it’s all about. 
Speaking yes, but also – listening.  

So when you’ve rattled off your initial intro, make sure you take the time to hear what your new client has to say in response.  And if their speech is slow or they are struggling to get words out (for whatever reason) DON’T be tempted to talk over them or pre-empt their sentences. 

Show patience and be respectful to what they are telling you. 

Be open-minded and NEVER make judgement. 

Sounds a bit like the Ten Commandments really…Thou shalt not Pass Judgement on thy old lady client! 

Let’s face it; most of this is common sense.  

An astute carer can evaluate a lot about a new client in that initial meeting at the door. Body language, the way they talk, their hearing and vision, their coordination and mobility – all can reveal potential physical health problems, mental conditions or emotional issues.  All situations that are handy for you to be aware of even before you’ve entered their home.

Take note of bloodshot or droopy eyes, breathlessness or disorientation, the condition of their skin, complaints of pain and weakness can all mean something is not right and as their carer you will need to investigate further.  If only to report your observations to a supervisor for further assessment or review.

Unfortunately, not only can you hear and see signs but you can smell them too. Take note of cigarette smoke, rotting food odours (ick) or stinky human excrement smells (double ick) … these are just a few indicators of the way your elderly client lives and that there may be serious health problems afoot. 

10.  You’re in!
Well done! You’ve passed the strip-search and interrogation stage and your shiny new client has allowed you to enter their world.  

So keep up the fabulous work, maintain pride in what you are doing, listen to your inner voice and GOD HELP YOU NOW...

Happy Caring!


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