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Home Care Assistant: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Home care assistants require no formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and responsibilities to see if this is the right career for you.

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Home care assistants may work with the elderly, disabled, mentally ill or terminally ill to provide personal assistance. They assist with a variety of daily tasks including personal grooming, meal preparation, feeding and light housework.

Essential Information

Home care assistants provide in-home care for patients who can't fully care for themselves. Training programs are available through postsecondary schools and home health agencies, as well as online. Students receive instruction in caring for patients' daily needs.

Required Education None mandatory; certificate programs available and on-the-job training is typical
Other Requirements Certification required in a few states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 26% for personal care aides*
Median Salary (May 2015) $20,980 for personal care aides*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Home Care Assistant

Home care assistants are trained to assist the elderly, disabled, mentally ill, and/or terminally ill. Home care assistants often work in private homes to help patients with daily tasks such as personal grooming and meal preparation. Families sometimes bring in these workers to care for their loved one when the job becomes too much for them to handle. Depending on the condition of the patient, actual feeding may be necessary. Light, general housekeeping may also be expected of a home care assistant.

Many home care assistants are hired by professional agencies that specialize in home health services. Nurses or managers from the agency oversee the work of the home care assistant, giving him or her a work schedule and specific instructions on caring for the patient.

The position of home care assistant shouldn't be confused with that of home health aide. Although the job duties are similar, home health aides usually work for certified agencies or hospices that are government-funded. For this reason, home health aides work under the supervision of a nurse or other medical professional, while home care assistants can be supervised by managers who don't hold a medical or nursing degree.

Character Traits

Home care assistants need to be strong and physically fit, because they often need to lift patients into and out of their beds, chairs, or bathtubs. Also, it will be necessary to lift and turn bed-ridden patients to prevent bedsores. Assistants should be careful when attempting to physically lift or move a client so they don't injure themselves in the process. Lifting devices found in hospitals and care facilities are seldom found in patients' homes. Home care assistants may work alone with their clients much of the time. Discretion is another important quality of home care assistants, because they will be employed within the customer's private residence.

Not only do assistants help their clients physically, but also psychologically. In the course of doing their jobs, home care assistants can provide needed companionship. If clients have problems or concerns they need to talk about, assistants can lend an ear and let their clients know they're being listened to. It's not unusual for assistants to form a bond with the patients they care for on a regular basis. It's possible to work for the same client for several years.

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Job Duties

Home care assistants are expected to make their patients' lives easier and more comfortable. Their duties may include transporting patients to doctor's appointments, making beds, doing laundry, preparing meals, giving patients their medications, or running errands. They may change the patient's bandages, check vital signs, or simply apply lotion to dry skin areas. Some light cleaning may also be part of the job of a home care assistant, even if only to maintain sanitary conditions in the home environment.

Patients may need help bathing themselves, and it will be up to assistants to get them into the bath or shower. Assistants may also need to help patients get to and from the toilet, and sometimes it is necessary to change a patient's adult diaper if he or she is bed-bound. It is extremely important that the patient be allowed to maintain his or her dignity during these times.

For recreation, assistants can play card games or board games with patients, because it is a way of keeping them mentally active and alert. Crossword puzzles or arts and crafts are equally helpful activities because they can absorb the patient's attention or liven up the day. Even sitting with patients in the backyard or on the front porch for a couple of hours can be beneficial. The fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for the patients' outlook and well-being.

Training Requirements

Prerequisites for entering a home care assistant training program are minimal. High school diplomas aren't required, but it can be advantageous for applicants to have this basic credential in case they want to go on to other careers in the future.

Although distance-learning programs in home care assistance are limited, online training programs are offered through some community colleges and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC). When taking online courses, students will need to also enroll in CPR and first aid classes locally, for actual hands-on experience. Training programs for home healthcare providers may also be offered through city vocational colleges or community-based organizations.

Newly hired home care assistants will receive on-the-job training from registered nurses or experienced assistants. Instruction is given in how to efficiently change beds and cook for their patients and in how to behave when in the patients' homes. Safety techniques and emergency response procedures are other key elements of training.

Advancement opportunities are limited for home care assistants. However, with further training, it is possible to go on to a career as a nursing assistant or even a registered nurse (RN). Independent home care workers who don't need affiliation with an agency can become self-employed and advertise for clients on their own.

Salary Info and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that personal care aides, another title for home care assistants, earned a median annual salary of $20,980 in 2015. The outlook for this career is excellent, with the BLS projecting that employment will grow upwards of 26% between 2014 and 2024, significantly faster than average. The elderly population is growing and home care assistants will be in increasing demand to assist with their needs.

Home care assistants help individuals who need assistance with a variety of daily activities, in their homes and in various institutions. There are no formal education requirements for home care assistants. Certification is voluntary in most states, but may benefit those wishing to advance in this field. With post-secondary training it is possible to become a nursing assistant or registered nurse.

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