The profession of ‘carer’ spans many industries, and working with the elderly is one such role that requires not only training and a certain level of knowledge, but also a set of personal characteristics and attributes. If patience, compassion and an interest in the welfare of others are at the heart of what you want from your career then you may well have found yourself considering a job as a carer for the elderly.

On the surface being a carer can sound like easy work; do a bit of housework, maybe cook a meal or two, pop in for a cuppa and a chat…but the truth is that care work encompasses a wide range of duties that can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Of course it can also be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding career paths you could take.

So, what exactly can you expect from a career as a carer – whether that be out in the community or within a residential care home?

What Are The Options?

Elderly care falls into several categories; including voluntary work supporting older people to get out into the community, providing one-to-one care at home, or as a carer in a residential care home. How ‘hands on’ the role will be will depend on the job role and what sort of tasks you will be carrying out.

There are over 15.3 million over-60’s in the UK, so it’s no wonder that there is such a high demand for carers. Sadly, there is a national shortage of staff in this sector, and this is mainly down to the demanding nature of the job.

The majority of older people who require support and care opt to have this delivered in their own homes. Being in familiar surroundings means that your client will be able to maintain a feeling of independence and control – something that can sometimes be lost if they are in a care home or hospital.

Your role as a home care assistant will vary greatly depending on the needs of the individual, however there are some tasks that are common, such as:

  • Providing personal care – This will include helping someone to use the toilet, and helping with bathing and intimate care. You may have to help a client with washing and styling their hair, applying make-up and dressing.
  • Preparing meals – You’ll often be expected to either prepare or help to prepare meals as a home care assistant. You may also need to assist someone in eating their meals too.
  • Helping with medication – You may have to remind a client to take their medication and ensure that it’s taken safely and as prescribed.
  • Housework – Almost always there will be some light housework required; making the beds, vacuuming and general cleaning and tidying. You might be required to simply assist an older person with these tasks, or you could have to complete them yourself. Sometimes you might be asked to run errands outside of the home, such as picking up prescriptions or doing the food shop.
  • Taking your client out into the community – It’s not good for anyone’s mental or physical health to be stuck indoors 24/7, but for the elderly getting out and about within their local community can be tricky. As a carer you might be expected to assist an older person with mobility or even anxiety issues on trips out and on social gatherings.
  • Providing companionship – Just being there for someone is often the most rewarding part of care work. Having a chat and a coffee, playing a game of cards, or even just taking the time to discuss the latest episode of a TV show can be invaluable to an older person, particularly if they don’t have relatives or friends living nearby.

Further reading: Choosing a career in care
Arguably the most important aspect of any care work is having and showing genuine passion and care for your work. The role of a carer is not glamorous and can be incredibly exhausting – both physically and mentally – so the need for genuine enthusiasm and love of the work is an absolute must in order to do the job to the best of your ability. In fact, any application process you undergo when it comes to applying for a job as a carer, you will be asked: WHY YOU? All the qualifications in the world will mean nothing if you have little interest in helping others or are lacking in empathy. There are some very important attributes that anyone working within the care industry will need to have.

Such as:

  • Respect and understanding – There are some worrying statistics that reveal that only 30% of over 50’s believe that elderly people receiving care either within their own homes or in a residential home are treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Statistics such as these make it even more important that anyone considering care work must be respectful and understanding at all times. This basic requirement is essential in any job where you are looking after another life.
  • Empathy – Understanding what someone else is going through can be incredibly hard at times, but it is important if you are caring for someone who is elderly that you let them know you are there to offer support for whatever they might be going through.
  • Patience – When it comes to caring for the elderly it’s important to consider the different types of individuals you may be looking after. While many will be incredibly capable and only need a little assistance, there may be others who are living with illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, leaving them with less capacity to understand their situation. This can lead to confusion or aggression – maybe even violence – and so understanding of the situation and the patience to deal with it are paramount!
  • Reliability – For many older people having interaction with their carer is the highlight of their day – particularly if they are housebound or don’t have relatives or friends who visit often. 3.64 million over 65’s live alone, which can feel incredibly isolating, and because of this it’s important to be consistent and reliable as a carer. Just visiting when you say you will can make a huge difference to the life of an elderly person who might not see anyone else but you for weeks on end – or longer!

Be kind and caring – This sounds so obvious, but the demand for kind and caring individuals is so important to this industry – this is not a career for the half-hearted! It requires a genuine passion for the welfare of others.

If you are considering a career in care, or if you want to know more, please get in touch with Care In Kent and take the first step towards a rewarding vocation that can really make a difference to someone’s life.