How UCLAH’s Home Health Aides Help Terminally Ill Patients
UCLAH’s home health aides assist hospice patients in their homes, enhancing their quality of life. In what ways do they help seriously ill patients?
The Role of the Home Health Aide
For home hospice patients and their families, home health aides (HHAs) are the most frequent visitors from the hospice health team. Several times a week, one will come to the home of a patient to provide the personal care needed to maintain the patient’s quality of life.
Since they visit patients and families so frequently, and since the service they offer is so hands-on, patients and our HHAs often form strong bonds. Thus, they have value beyond the physical comforts they provide. They provide friendly, gentle social interaction with patients, and many patients come to see their aides as confidants or friends.
Unique Care Los Angeles Hospice believes that emotional care is a critical part of a patient’s comfort and quality of life. Our aides know the special place they occupy in patients’ hearts, and they are prepared to give compassionate, gentle, and friendly care to everyone they are responsible for.
Health Aides Compared to Nurses
The responsibilities of HHAs and nurses are sometimes confused. The word nursing is often applied to actions that are most often performed by aides, but those involved in the profession of skilled nursing are responsible for doing much more.
They do share some duties in common:
- Providing hands-on care for patients.
- Performing basic medical services, such as checking vitals and giving medicine.
- Looking after the emotional and social health of their patients.
- Doing all their tasks with compassion and dedication.
Overall, however, the two professions provide quite different services. Nurses write health plans, give injections, perform wound care, give advice to family members, and report to physicians and other caregivers. It is important not to confuse their duties. HHAs must not perform nursing activities like giving injections or treating wounds, and they must not give medical advice to patients and family members.
Duties of the Health Aide
Our HHAs are responsible for the personal care of their patients. This includes just about anything that the patient might struggle with on her own:
- Personal grooming: washing, combing hair, brushing teeth, and trimming nails.
- Assisting with toilet needs.
- Helping with eating and drinking.
- Massaging sore muscles.
- Helping with physical and occupational therapies.
- Helping the patient walk and move from bed to a chair.
- Repositioning the patient in bed to lessen the chance of bedsores and other discomforts.
- Changing bedsheets.
- Light housekeeping, particularly to avoid tripping hazards.
All these tasks are necessary for the patient’s physical and mental health. Most of the time, family members are the ones who will perform these tasks for the ill person, but introducing one of UCLAH’s aides into the home both gives the family a respite and expands the patient’s social opportunities.
In the Hospice Team
Even if our home health aides are not responsible for choosing treatments and therapies for patients, they are still critical members of the hospice care team, communicating and working together to provide an excellent standard of care.
When the leading nurse has drafted a health care plan for a patient, he or she will communicate the plan to the therapists, social workers, other nurses, and HHAs on the team. From then on, the aides will have clear directions on how to best make the patient comfortable. They will learn each patient’s specific needs:
- How to move and reposition her to minimize discomfort.
- What medicine she needs and when.
- The physical or occupational therapies she is prescribed.
- Her dietary requirements.
Our nurses and HHAs work closely together, often visiting the patient together so they can discuss the patient’s needs and ensure they are following the health care plan as closely as possible.
Though our HHAs cannot give medical advice to patients and family members, the close bonds they form with patients and their frequent visits mean that he is often the first person to notice if something is amiss. If a patient is developing bedsores, neglecting her food, or falling into depression, then the aide will surely notice. He will report his suspicions to the nurse, who can then investigate the matter closely during her next visit, leading to an updated health care plan and better care for the patient moving forward.
Working with Therapists
Our therapists are responsible for many patients at a time, so it is impossible for them to personally ensure that their recommendations are being followed. Since our HHAs visit patients so often, it often falls to them to help the patient with her therapies.
- If the patient is assigned physical therapies, he will step into the role of a physical therapy aide. In this capacity, he will help the patient stretch and exercise and may ease the patient’s discomfort by gently massaging sore muscles. Physical therapy can greatly slow the decline of a terminally ill person’s abilities, such exercises have a definite benefit on her quality of life.
- Patients who have trouble swallowing often benefit from speech therapy. When a speech therapist evaluates a patient, he will update the health care plan to include his recommendations. Often the speech therapist will discover the posture in which the patient can most easily swallow. Our HHA from then on will help the patient maneuver into that position, making eating and drinking easier and more pleasurable.
In home hospice care, family members are the primary caregivers. This can be stressful and bewildering for family members, who often have a lot of love for their ill loved one but are maybe lacking the skills and coping strategies that professional caregivers have. Even with three visits a week, that’s still four whole days, plus many hours before and after visits on the other three days, that family members have to look after their ill loved one. Thus, the arrival of our HHA is often greeted with a sigh of relief, as family members can relax and look after their own needs, knowing that a compassionate and competent professional is here to take care of their ailing loved one.
It is not unusual for a patient to form a close bond with an HHA—and vice versa. We at UCLAH know that HHAs provide a friendly social outlet for patients who rarely interact with people outside of their family. Many times, families have called us to say that grandma or grandpa adores the company of a particular aide and to ask if that person could visit more often. We love to hear it! Rearranging schedules to guarantee more visits of a patient’s favorite aide is no trouble if it brings happiness into a home hospice.