Whether you are looking for a caretaker or are considering becoming a professional caregiver, this guide will walk you through the basic duties of a caregiver and some of the potential caregiver responsibilities that home care agencies and families may expect. While there is no one caregiver job description that covers all that a caregiver job entails, this post will explore some of the common areas of focus that can serve as a guide for would-be caretakers, hiring agencies, and families in need of senior care.
When seeking a caregiver for their loved one, individuals may find themselves confused by the various options for care. Should their loved one stay in their own home or take up residence in an assisted living facility? What are the typical caregiver duties families can expect or inquire about? Read on through this caregiver duty checklist to understand some of the most frequent areas of focus for caretakers, whether they are working in a home or in a nursing facility.
Developing a Care Plan
One of the first steps in outlining the level of care provided by a caretaker is developing a care plan. If a plan of care can be worked out before the individual needs full-time care or while the individual in question maintains appropriate levels of decision-making abilities, then this is the best-case scenario. In many cases, however, the development of a care plan is left up to the family members who are trying to make the best choices for their loved ones.
The care plan covers the agency or family expectations for the caretaker, and a good care plan takes the wishes of the person being cared for into consideration. Although most caretakers are not medical professionals, experienced caregivers have worked with and around the clinical and medical staff in a support role and have an understanding of what they can and cannot provide.
The care plan serves as a sort of contract between the person needing care (or their power of attorney or designated representative), health care professionals, and the one providing care. Care plans are especially important for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s since they help keep everyone grounded about what can and should be done every step of the way.
Assistance With Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
One of the clearest areas in which a caretaker can provide support is by helping the individual with their activities of daily living, or activities of daily living. There are six to seven basic activities of daily living to be considered when assessing a person’s ability to function in their own home or space, and most of these activities of daily living are related to personal care. Additionally, there are also instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and these are assessed as a way to determine how or if the individual can live independently in the community.
For the most part, individuals lose some of their instrumental activities of daily living before they begin to lose some of their activities of daily living. Qualified caregivers should be able to assist with basic activities of daily living, and many caretakers can also assist with instrumental activities of daily living.
Assistance with Mobility and Transferring
Whether the individual walks alone, uses a wheelchair, or uses a cane or other assistive device, a caretaker can help them get where they want to go. When mobility is limited or restricted, the caregiver can assist with getting the things they need while working to prevent unnecessary falls or injury. Transferring, or moving from one body position to another, is another ADL that is often related to ambulating. Getting out of bed and into a chair, or standing up from a sitting position, can be difficult, and the caregiver’s job is to use proper support and lifting techniques to assist the individual with these two important daily tasks.
Assistance with Nutrition: Preparing Meals, Grocery Shopping, and Eating
While the act of eating, specifically, of moving food from the plate or bowl to one’s mouth, is a primary ADL, the whole process of planning meals, acquiring food, and preparing nutritious, tasty meals is something that a caregiver can assist with. Making lists and taking your loved one shopping may be part of the duties of the caretaker if the individual is ambulatory, but the caregiver may also do these things independently.
Food preparation and assistance with eating is one of the more common expectations for caregivers, and they may be asked to work within a specific diet plan that ensures optimal health while limiting possible medication interactions or physical reactions to food intake. Monitoring and encouraging fluid intake and appropriate calorie intake (which through solid foods or through nutritional supplements like Ensure) can help keep your loved one from experiencing malnutrition or dehydration.
Helping with Personal Hygiene: Oral Care, Bathing, and Toileting
This area is one that can send the most dedicated family caregiver looking for help from a professional. Experienced caretakers can take over these intimate duties by helping the individual with maintaining dental health (brushing teeth, encouraging mouthwash when appropriate, soaking dentures) and by helping the person with toileting, bathing, and cleaning up after being sick. It is especially important for the caregiver to have experience working with the elderly individuals and to demonstrate patience and compassion, as this kind of assistance helps your loved one maintain a level of dignity and relative control over their bodily functions.
Other personal hygiene tasks may include some that people do not usually think about. Trimming and cleaning toenails and fingernails, for example, is often difficult for those with arthritis or trouble bending over, and this is one more thing the caregiver can take off the plate of family members.
More Than Robes and Socks: Help with Dressing and Grooming
Fastening buttons, managing zippers, and lifting arms and legs can seem like a bit much for individuals with joint and ambulation issues. A caregiver can help select appropriate clothes as well as assist with getting the clothes on and off. In addition, caregivers can provide basic assistance with brushing hair, and, in some cases, even with applying make-up or other products to help the person in their care look and feel their best.
For loved ones with brain damage, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, the loss of short- and long-term memory and its side effects can be especially troubling. Caregivers can help orient your loved one to time and place, and, in some cases, conduct basic memory exercises and assessments.
Medication Management and Medical Advocacy
Management of prescription medication is another caregiver task that can prove invaluable. Picking up prescriptions, sorting them, and providing medication reminders is one of the ways a caretaker can ensure that your loved one is taking their medications as prescribed and any side effects are noted and reported. Getting to and from doctor’s appointments and following a care plan are other ways a caregiver can provide support to the senior loved one as well as the family, and they should also monitor for new symptoms, such as bedsores or worsening short-term recall. A dedicated caregiver can also keep tabs on medication supply and proper storage, such as ensuring pain medications are counted and locked away for safekeeping.
Light Housekeeping and Household Management
An in-home caregiver may also provide light housekeeping, especially as it relates to the comfort, safety, and hygiene of the person they are supporting. Washing dishes, changing bed linens, and sweeping or vacuuming are all duties that a caregiver may perform as part of their daily duties. Other things, like making sure pathways are clear for wheelchairs, maintaining appropriate temperatures in the home, and organizing refrigerators and/or pantries are all things the caregiver can do to assist with the independence and quality of life of the individual.
Depending on the agreement between the caregiver and the individual (or the individual’s authorized representative), an in-home caregiver may also pick up and take up trash, pick up mail, and do laundry. Simple repair and maintenance tasks, like unclogging a drain, changing a light bulb, or watering flowers can also fall within the duties of the caretaker.
One of the less talked about concerns of having a loved one who wants to maintain their independence is the probability of increased loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Simply by being around, the caregiver provides an antidote to the emotional isolation felt by some older adults. In addition to the personal care tasks the caretaker takes charge of, they also serve as part of the person’s de facto emotional support system, and this aspect of care is as important in many ways to the well being of the individual as all of the other activities that support activities of daily living.
Reading newspapers, books, or religious texts is something that many seniors enjoy, and when they struggle with vision or focus, a caregiver can read aloud to them. Finding and putting on movies or videos, putting together jigsaw puzzles, playing cards or board games, and just sitting together are all activities the caregiver can assist with as a way to give emotional support and intellectual engagement for the person in their care. Sometimes, things as simple as looking up a telephone number and helping someone make a phone call is exactly what your loved one needs to feel empowered and connected.
Getting Around Town: Transportation Support
Providing transportation can go beyond ferrying your loved one back and forth to doctor’s appointments. In addition to ensuring the individual makes it to medical appointments and helping them run routine errands, some caregivers can offer scenic drives to help get the senior out of the house, and they can coordinate other types of outings as well. Going to the zoo or aquarium, taking a walk in a park, attending religious services and study groups, or just window shopping are all ways the caregiver can help your loved one with experiencing the world outside their home or nursing facility.
Financial Management and Paperwork Support
Some advanced caregivers can also provide insight and support for some of the financial aspects of household management and medical advocacy. Although the senior person may have a family member who is serving as a financial power of attorney, the caregiver may be able to help with filling out forms for health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid, paying bills, and reviewing billing statements for accuracy. Of course, any individual who has access to bank accounts, credit cards, or checkbooks should be someone who has a history of dealing with someone else’s finances and be someone the family trusts to make good and timely decisions regarding when and how the individual’s money is used.
Monitoring and Reporting, or The Caregiver as the Eyes and Ears
Although the caregiver may be limited in what kind of medical care they can provide without a clinician or physician present, they can provide the sort of home health care tasks that help maintain and monitor the individual’s status quo. Taking and reporting blood pressure readings,
monitoring home physical therapy tasks, and watching for bedsores or other sick bed manifestations all fall under the umbrella of the home health aide or caretaker. Activities that range from the daily monitoring of blood sugars and other vitals to communicating with caseworkers about any gaps in the care plan can often be shouldered by the caretaker.
Since it is not uncommon for a person who needs a caregiver to have multiple treatment providers, some caregivers can also help coordinate visits and communication between physical therapists, PCPs, and specialty providers. Whether they report health status and any relevant changes to the physician, designated family representatives, or to the person in their care, the professional caregiver can serve as the eyes and ears that others can rely on for objectivity and consistency.
Putting It All Together
Whether you are beginning to plan for acquiring a caregiver for yourself or loved or assessing your current caregiver, hopefully, this guide has provided some examples of the wide-ranging scope of a caregiver’s myriad responsibilities. Caregivers may not do each of the things listed here (and you may not even want them to do all of these things), but the checklist below will give you an idea of what to explore when you are considering what level of caretaking you and your loved one need.
Caregiver Duty Checklist of Items to Discuss or Consider:
- Mobility: This activity of daily living involves walking, using a wheelchair, or ambulating with or without assistive devices. In other words, mobility is generally about helping the person get around the house or facility.
- Transferring: Another activity of daily living, this includes things like moving from the bed to a chair, from the wheelchair to toilet, going from sitting to a standing position or getting into bed.
- Nutrition: Proper nutrition is a concern for elderly individuals as well as those with chronic health conditions, and this includes planning for meals, shopping for groceries, preparing meals, feeding, following specified diet plans, as well as monitoring and encouraging fluid intake.
- Toileting: This area is critical as it involves getting to and from the commode, cleaning up afterward, and dealing with any urinary or fecal incontinence.
- Bathing: Another aspect of daily living, bathing can mean providing sponge or bed baths, washing hair, and using the shower or bathtub in a safe way.
- Oral hygiene: Many common conditions are exacerbated by poor dental health, and this focus area includes using mouthwash, brushing teeth, or cleaning dentures.
- Dressing: This involves picking out clothes and well as dressing and undressing.
- Grooming: This is not an ADL, but it may include drying or styling hair, applying make-up, using lotions or powders, and trimming fingernails and toenails.
- Medication management: One of the biggest problem areas for anyone on multiple medications, this area may include picking up prescriptions and vitamins, sorting and monitoring timely dosages, and keeping high-risk medication in a safe place.
- Medical advocacy and support: Ensuring compliance with the care plan, maintaining a medical appointment schedule, taking vitals, monitoring blood pressure, testing blood sugars, and monitoring basic memory functions is part of what many expect from a caregiver.
- Transportation: Driving to and from doctor’s appointments, attending church or community activities, traveling, taking scenic drives, and visiting friends or family is also an important function.
- Companionship: Engaging in activities, reading aloud, playing games, watching programs, chatting, and making phone calls is another set of tasks.
- Housekeeping and home management: This may include doing laundry, dusting, sweeping, mopping, changing bed linens, doing dishes, watering plants, checking mail, unclogging sinks or toilets, or changing light bulbs.
- Paperwork and finances: This is not something all families want, but it can include paying bills, reviewing billing statements, and filling out health insurance or other forms.
The list above is not meant to be comprehensive, nor is it meant to indicate that any given caretaker will provide all of these services. The checklist is simply meant to be a guide for families and would-be caregivers as a framework to discuss tasks they consider essential, tasks they cannot or will not support, and tasks that may depend on changing circumstances.
If you are a caregiver or would like to find a caregiver for your family or facility, Care As One’s job board and hiring platform can help you on your journey.