Saturday, 1 July 2017

Top 10 Tips: Meeting an Elderly Client at Their Home For the First Time

Be Brave and Make Your Initial Introduction Count!

Knocking on the front door of a client's home for the first time is always an anxious few seconds, but understandably even more nerve-racking if you are a newbie to the caring caper.

In fact, I recall the day of my first shift ever... standing at the top of the steps, staring at a stranger's doorbell (of someone I would shortly be helping undress for their shower) and wondering if it was not too late to turn and run for the hills!

I remember too, thinking how I hadn't really been forewarned on the reality of what to expect when arriving at a skeptical senior's house for our first meeting.  I knew that I needed to be confident and professional in order to gain trust, but it turned out to be instinct I relied on to provide my client with a warm friendly vibe that put them at ease. 

I wanted them to know that not only was I was good at my job, but I was genuinely kind, empathetic - and that I CARED too.

Luckily for me, my first client was the most adorably grateful old gent who didn't give a toot that I was a learner.  He was just so relieved to have me there.  Which I guess at the end of the day is what it's actually all about... THEM.

And NOT you!

So I thought it might be helpful to list some essential, yet often under-appreciated pointers, to ensure the inital meet 'n' greet with your new elderly client is as successful as it can possibly be. That brief, but impressionable moment where you get to reveal your amazing self and to plant the seed for a future (hopefully) mutually respectful working relationship.  

Although take note: if your client suffers from any form of memory loss issues, you may be repeating these steps all over again - and again - and again......every time you visit them.

But that's no problem to an exceptional carer as yourself, is it?

Aged Care Worker Visits
Ding Dong, 
anyone home?

1.   Face them head-on with a big fat SMILE.
Appearing at your client's door with the cheeriest face you can muster, will often be enough to knock the wind out of a potentially bad-tempered elder’s sails.  Include a hearty 'smile' in your voice as well to hopefully nip a grumpy mood in the bud before they've had a chance to remember what they were cross about in the first place! 

Trust me, it works a treat - and what have you got to lose?  

2.   Use Formal Address - ALWAYS.
Make a promise to yourself as an accomplished carer, to always use your client’s official title - especially for that initial meeting eg: "Hello Mr Smith/Mrs Jones".  Older generations were bought up believing that this is an integral sign of respect - and it's never to be messed with.

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 always attempt to pronounce your client’s surnames too.  Even the culturally 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 actually confided in me later that she’d appreciated me having a crack (as feeble as it was) because most people never even tried.  

She'd eventually become known as ‘Mrs K’ anyway, "for efficiency's sake", she said.

Fortunately, 'Gina' and I eventually got on so famously she insisted I call her by her first name.  Phew...problem solved.

3.   Introduce Yourself - CLEARLY.
You'll discover as you become more experienced and worldly, that some of your more frail or unwell clients may have whole armies of carers, case managers, nurses, health workers, specialists and home support people galore coming and going to their home 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.  

That is - tell them 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 Domestic Assistance duty - only to turn round and discover your client has stripped off down to her petticoat in anticipation of having a wound dressing changed by who she thought was the District Nurse instead.  

Whoops!  Awkward....much.

Elderly people receceiving home services

And who are you, Dear??? 

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

You’ve got several logical explanations:
  • your client is deaf (the obvious and most common one)
  • your client's English isn't flash 
  • your client is unwell - mentally or physically
  • your client is in a very, very, very bad mood  ( 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 when you are friends, 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 older adults who have hearing issues.  Then I come home at the end of the days only to continue the trend with my poor family...sorry, boysies!

5.   COMPLIMENT your Client
One of the best bits of never-fail advice I can offer any carer (or anyone wanting to make somebody like you) is that you need to find at least one thing about your new client to compliment them on.  

Just something, whatever it is.

It could be that their hair or make-up looks nice; you love the sparkly bits on their handbag; their pretty-coloured lippy or you notice the cute pearl buttons on their beige cardigan. 

Or, if you are struggle to find something personal to say about your client, then admire the lovely photo of their grandchildren instead... or the beautifully manicured lawn... or the fabulous blooms on their camelia bush.   

Old people feel proud and pleased with themselves when they are told they have something that others might appreciate or find attractive.  It has huge impact and lets them know they are valued and more importantly - that they are a person, too!  

Plus 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 careworker, it’s important to be aware that your new client may live with a spouse (or other family member). 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 (to allow their regular family member ie: caregiver, to get some time away from the house).

It is in your best interests therefore, to completely suck up to these people (in a good way) and get them on side. These peeps will have a plethora of useful information about their mum or dad that will make your job significantly easier if you take heed of it; 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 upset and then we will ALL pay later!"
Little things like that, but it's important stuff. And it's what will help you develop a good healthy rapport and eventually, a trusting relationship with your client - and their family.

7.   Acknowledge PETS
Older adults 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 mangy old 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… you can always disinfect the hell out of yourself in the car later!

Old people love their pets
But Mrs Stevens, Billy hasn't moved in over an hour...

8.   LISTEN to your client
Every legendary aged-carer knows that Communication is what it’s all about. Speaking, 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 whatever 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 client! 

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

Isn’t it?

An astute careworker 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 even emotional issues.  All situations that are handy for you to be aware of even before you’ve entered their home - and their life.

Take note of bloodshot or droopy eyes, the condition of their skin, breathlessness, disorientation or confusion, 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 pass it on by reporting 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, gas, rotting food odours (ick) or stinky human excrement smells (double ick) … these are just a few indications of the way your beloved senior lives and that there may be serious health problems afoot. 

10.  YOU'RE IN!
Well done, great job...  Go, you good thing!  You’ve passed the strip-search and interrogation stage and your new client has allowed you to enter their world.  

So keep up the excellent work, maintain pride in what you do, trust your little voice (always) ...and HEAVEN HELP YOU NOW.



Working with elderly people

It seemed like such a good idea at the time... 

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