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What is a Home Health Aid?

Home health aides may also be called homemaker home health aides, personal attendants, or home attendants. These workers are employed by families with an elderly and/or disabled family member to assist the family in care giving, helping the patient remain in the home. They will follow a doctor's treatment plan, and work under the supervision of a family member, registered nurse or physical therapist and take care of and do household chores for the elderly and disabled. They may also take care of children when their mother or father is sick or disabled.

A home health aide will generally do whatever is needed for patients who can't live alone without help. They keep a home running as normally as possible and make it possible for the sick to stay at home instead of moving to a nursing home.

The home health aides' duties will vary. The generally include what is referred to as Activities of Daily Living or ADLs. An aide may go to the same home every day for months or years, or may provide services to multiple families. Some typical duties of the home health aid include helping the patient bathe, use the toilet or bed pan, and to move around. They may check pulse and breathing rates; they change bandages; and they help patients take their medicine. They may also do cleaning for the safety and comfort of the patient - not heavy full housekeeping. They clean and/or straighten a patient's room, kitchen, and bathroom, may do the patient's laundry, and change bed sheets and pillow cases. Aides may also plan meals (including special diets), shop for food, and prepare meals. In addition their regular duties, they give patients emotional support and help them to live as independently as possible. They show patients how to prepare healthy meals within the patient's dietary restrictions and ways that patients can make due and take care of themselves in spite of their sickness or disability. The aides keep patients mentally healthy and alert by having conversations with them, playing games (crossword puzzles, scrabble, cards, etc.) and assisting them to be as physically active as is possible. They help coordinate patient care with other family members and the health care team. They report changes in the patient's condition to the family member and/or nurse supervisor and keep records of patient care.

A home health aide will work in patients' homes. They must be physically fit and strong, able to bend down, lift, and do other things associated with cleaning and cooking. Mechanical lifting devices that are available in a hospital or nursing home are seldom available in a private home. They must also be able to emotionally handle patients who may be suffering. They often will be required to simply listen to patients talk about their problems. Some patients are neat and pleasant, while others may be angry, depressed, and generally difficult.

Successful home health aides will enjoy helping people and not mind physically hard work. Other qualities families should look for are aides who are responsible, compassionate, emotionally stable, calm and cheerful. The aide should also be honest, tactful, and discreet. Many families will require a confidentiality agreement for aides employed in their private home.

Turnover in these positions is often high, due in part to the relatively low skill requirements, low pay, and high physical and emotional demands of the job.