Injuries and illness can mean pain, lost income, and added stress for professional caregivers. But these strategies can keep you healthier and happier on the job.
It may be the slightest of movements: you lean over to gently help the older adult transfer from the bed, or you help him from the chair and you feel shooting pain in your back and legs. The next day you can hardly move — let alone take on your shift as a caregiver.
Or perhaps, you are working with a client who is anxious and confused due to dementia, and by the end of the day you are also feeling stressed and tired.
Maybe, the senior you are caring for is coming down with a cold and sniffling and sneezing all day long. If you catch it, you’ll miss days of work.
Physical injuries, mental stress and strain, colds, viruses, and infections are some of the biggest risks caregivers face on the job. They can mean missed workdays and lost income, while also jeopardizing the senior’s health and well-being.
But, at HomeCare of the Rockies, we work hard to minimize those risks for caregivers. With intensive training programs designed to teach safe body mechanics and movement, self-care strategies, and infection prevention methods, we help caregivers stay physically and mentally strong.
“A caregivers’ main focus is on the older adults they serve,” says Sandi McCann, president of HomeCare of the Rockies, Inc. “So, we want to support the caregiver and their efforts by providing practical tips, reminders, support, tools, and trainings to help them stay safe and healthy.”
Caregiver safety and well-being focuses on three key areas, says certified nursing assistant and caregiver educator, Debi Law.
“We also put a big emphasis on preventing back, neck, and shoulder strain and injury,” says Law, who leads safety trainings for HomeCare of the Rockies. “Back injuries are the greatest risk to caregivers because they use their backs all the time at work to lift and turn and reach. With proper lifting techniques they can lower the risk of pain and injury.”
Safety starts before you ever make a move, Law says. Before lifting household items, or helping the older adult transfer from a bed or chair, it’s important to assess the difficulty of the move.
Is the individual or object too heavy to move comfortably? Is it awkward to hold or difficult to grasp? If you have any doubt that you can safely make the transfer, call for help.
At HomeCare of the Rockies we encourage our caregivers to call their care managers with concerns or questions at any time. If something isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for the older adult you are caring for, Law says. Let the care manager know your concerns immediately and they’ll offer suggestions or send backup.
“Asking for help is not a bad thing,” Law says. “It shows your care manager and the person you are caring for that you are aware and committed to doing what you need to do to keep both you and your client safe and protected.”
Law also reminds caregivers to keep their backs straight, heads up, and shoulders back when lifting anything. Begin the lift from a squat position and whenever possible have the senior help.
If you are transferring a senior from a bed or shower chair, explain what you need them to do, Law says. Say, “O.K. On the count of three I want you to stand or move your legs.” This helps the older adult feel safer and more capable and can ease caregiver strain.
Also, use tools and devices to help whenever possible. A raised toilet seat can mean less lifting. Grab bars, shower chairs, adjustable beds, gait belts, and other tools and devices can make the house safer for the older adult and ease the physical load for the caregiver.
“We encourage open communication with our caregivers and everybody on the care team. We want them to talk to us, tell us which devices or what type of information they need to safely care for the senior and themselves,” McCann says.
And, in the event an injury does occur, HomeCare of the Rockies is licensed in the state of Colorado and does provide worker’s compensation insurance.
Colds, flus and other viruses can also lead to scores of lost work days, hurting both the caregivers and the person you are caring for. Clients do best with the consistency and care of a regular caregiver to feel safe and relaxed, but a caregiver with a cold can jeopardize the senior’s health. Frail older adults are prone to pneumonia and other ailments.
The best way to deal with sickness and infection is to minimize the risk.
That means proper handwashing must be a priority and a frequent part of your care routine, Law says. McCann washes her hands every time she enters a new room and keeps anti-bacterial lotion in the car for use when she can’t get to a sink with soap and water.
Caregivers are taught to take the time to wash their hands well, scrubbing between the fingers, and under and around the nails, Law says. She also urges caregivers to wear gloves whenever possible, particularly during cleaning and hygiene care and always when dealing with body fluids.
And, if you are coping with a cold, stay home. If your client is the one sniffling, wear a mask, Law says. Gloves, masks, and frequent and proper handwashing can prevent illnesses that are spread through touching, sneezing, coughing, and body fluids.
“By taking a few precautions you can lower your chances of getting sick and also lower the risks of serious health complications for the person you are caring for,” says Anne Rydesky, a registered nurse and a caregiver educator with HomeCare of the Rockies.
Physical safety isn’t the only concern caregivers need to consider. People in the caregiving field must also take special care to ease stress and manage the emotional demands that come with the job, says McCann, a self-care advocate who is often invited to speak on the topic
“Stress is part of the job, but it can take a toll on our immune system and chip away at our well-being,” McCann says. “Those things get in the way of caregiving and everything else we enjoy. A little self-care each day can help us relax and restore our emotional balance.”
Members of the HomeCare of the Rockies care team are always available to meet with caregivers and we send out regular email communications featuring practical reminders, tips, and self-care strategies caregivers can use to ease stress during the day.
We also hold regular in-service trainings and offer continuing education programs for caregivers that teach a variety of stress-relieving strategies like mindfulness, gratitude practice, diaphragmatic breathing, and even creative approaches to self-care like vision board development. That’s part of the company’s commitment to caregiver wellness.
“We have a strong care community here,” says McCann. “We truly are a team. We have gatherings, and classes, and an open-door policy. After caring for others all day our caregivers can come back to the office where they can have a snack, grab a cup of coffee, hang out and talk with other caregivers. We have made it a warm, inviting, safe place to unwind. We even have a library where our caregivers can borrow books. Coming together this way is part of self-care too and it helps all of us connect as part of the HomeCare of the Rockies care community.”
If you’d like to become part of our care community, or if you are simply looking for more training opportunities or safety support, call us, 720-204-6083, we are here to help any caregiver.