An Aged-Care Worker’s Guide for Initial Contact with New Clients
Knocking on the front door of a newly-assigned elderly person’s home for that very first time is always an anxious few seconds, but understandably even more nerve-racking if you are a newbie to this ‘caregiver’ caper.
In fact, I recall many years ago 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!
- What if they don’t like me?
- What if I run out of time?
- WHAT IF I DO IT WRONG?!?!
I remember, too, thinking how I hadn’t really been forewarned on the reality of what to expect when arriving at a sceptical 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 that I was a genuinely kind, empathetic person – and that I CARED too.
Luckily for me, my first client was the most adorably grateful, yet desperately frail 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 me.
So, I thought it might be helpful to list some essential, yet often over-looked pointers, to ensure the initial meet ‘n’ greet with your new 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 mutually beneficial and respectful working relationship.
Appearing at your client’s door with the cheeriest, beaming-est face you can muster, will often be enough to knock the wind out of a potentially grumpy or resentful elder’s sails.
Include a hearty ‘smile’ in your voice as well, which should nip any bad temper 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 intro:
“Hello, Mrs Picklehead, how are you today?“
Older generations were bought up believing that this is the ultimate 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 and who will soon let you know if you dare to assume she’s a Missus) – in this case, it’s best to opt for the full name approach:
“Good morning… Marjorie Jackhammer, is it?”
And as daunting as it may seem, you should always attempt to pronounce your client’s surname, regardless of how tricky it might look on paper. That’s including the culturally curly ones that contain just about every letter in the alphabet – including all five vowels TWICE.
I will never forget standing outside Mrs Gina Kantezkantopituolos’s door in a cold sweat at the thought of insulting her by ballsing up her name and having her hate me forever. She actually confided in me later that she’d appreciated me having a try (as feeble as it was) because others never even bothered. For that reason, she’d eventually become known as ‘Mrs K’ for the obvious reason.
“For efficiency’s sake”, she’d say.
Ultimately, ‘Gina’ and I got on so famously she insisted I call her by her first name anyway. Phew…problem solved.
3. Introduce yourself
You’ll discover as you become more experienced and worldly, that some of your more dependant 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 – and sometimes ALL AT ONCE.
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 cleaning duty only to discover your client has since stripped off down to her petticoat in anticipation of having her wound dressing changed by whom she thought was the District Nurse instead.
Not that that’s ever happened to me.
No! Not at all, she said.
4. Confirm that your client UNDERSTANDS you
This is not as silly as it sounds. And an accomplished careworker can determine a lot about someone who appears to be hard of hearing or can’t comprehend what is happening (and has no idea what you are babbling on about.)
You’ve got several logical explanations:
- your client suffers from deafness (the rational and most common one)
- your client is from a non-English background
- your client is sick
- 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 (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 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 (or anyone trying to make someone else like you) 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 just love the colour of their shirt, they’re wearing a pretty-coloured lipstick or they’ve had a haircut and are looking exceptionally spruced-up.
Or… if you’re really struggling to find something nice to say about your client, then admire the lovely photo of their grandchildren, the enormous cermaic vase in the loungeroom, the beautifully manicured lawn or the fabulous blooms on the camelia bush.
Whatever, doesn’t matter.
Older adults 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 their contributions are still valued and more importantly – that they are people, too!
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!
6. Acknowledge your Client’s Spouse
As an observant caregiver, it’s important to be aware that your new client may live with a husband, wife (or other family member such as a partner, son, daughter, niece etc). These onlookers can offer valuable insight on the person whom you may be about to help 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 their parent, grandparent or great-aunty Doris that will make your job significantly smoother if you take heed of it; information that you won’t find on the Care Plan or in the medical notes.
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. He needs to stick to this routine or he will get quite upset and then we will ALL pay later tonight!
Mum only likes using the pink towels… never the green ones as they were (deceased) Dad’s towels and she will get upset if you try and use them during her shower.
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
Seniors literally GLOW when you show interest in their animals and I can guarantee you, without hesitation… they will instantly adore any visiting carer who does this.
I’ve broken down many a barrier by patting the mangiest of dogs, admired 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 to gain your elder’s approval.
Rub the tummy of flea-bitten ‘Ol Yella and say something silly to the cat – you’ll win over the faith of your brand new judgmental client… and you can disinfect yourself in the car later!
8. LISTEN to your Client
Every aged-careworker knows that communication is what it’s all about.
Speaking yes, but possibly more importantly: 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 in 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 thine old lady client!
Let’s face it; most of this is common sense. Isn’t it?
An astute and qualified carer can evaluate a lot about a new aged 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.
And all are clues that are handy for you to be aware of even before you’ve entered their home.
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 follow-up which may then lead to 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, alcohol, 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 or may not be serious health problems afoot.
10. You’re In!
Well done! Superb job!
You’ve passed the probing and interrogation stage and your shiny new elder has allowed you to enter their world.
It’s now up to you to maintain your exemplary high standard of caring and strong positive work ethic. Enjoy getting to know your new elderly client, but remain vigilant and remember there are professional boundaries. And don’t be tempted to cut corners – because it will most definitely bite you on the bum later.
Work hard, and always have pride in being able to provide a service to people who need your help if they intend on staying in their own homes. And who on the most part, are actually very pleased to see you.