Careworkers provide personal care and support to older people receiving care either in their private home or in a residential aged care setting. They are the largest group of workers in aged care. Careworkers are also involved in supporting palliative care needs.

Careworkers in aged care:

  • Provide emotional, physical and personal support
  • Provide assistance with daily living
  • Need good communication skills
  • Need a caring and compassionate attitude

Careworkers do not have to have any formal qualifications. However, many have completed a Certificate III in Individual Support or Certificate IV in Ageing Support.

Many careworkers express satisfaction at being able to continue caring for people at the end of their life. However, sometimes this can be a cause of stress and anxiety. Careworkers may be concerned about some or all the following issues:

  • If they have the skills to provide care for older people at the end-of-life
  • How to answer questions from the older person and their families
  • If they feel adequately informed of changes to a person's care
  • Whether they are they giving the right care
  • Understanding when and how decisions are made to withdraw some forms of treatment
  • Being included or informed about care plans
  • Whether pain relief is adequate, or that too much medication is given.

What older people and families want

Many older people may die slowly over some months or even years. Palliative care is more than the last few days before death. Living well, even as death approaches, can be very important to older people.

When aged care residents who are dying are asked 'What is important to you', they indicate they:

  • Wish to maintain contact with the outside world
  • Wish to maintain social contacts for as long as possible
  • Want to be useful and not to be a burden. [1]

When asked 'What care do you want your relative to receive?' family members commonly want:

  • Adequate pain relief
  • Good hygiene including oral care
  • To be treated with dignity and respect. [1]

For many relatives being able to continue helping care for their loved one is important. Families may also want to feel that all that could be done was done for their relative. This can assist families to grieve. However, sometimes this is a source of tension between careworkers and families. [2] The Registered Nurse or supervisor can resolve issues. If the family is helping in care, this should be documented in the care plan.

Useful Tip

When someone asks a question that you cannot answer, try responding to the feelings behind the question. The person will feel valued and cared for, even when you can’t give them an answer. Use simple, but honest statements like; 'Mrs Smith I know how worried you are, I will inform the RN of your concerns and they will speak with you.'

Dignity and respect are seen as being allowed to make choices about their care, including the time of care. Dignity means having those choices respected. Dignity is also defined as:

  • Being treated as an individual
  • Being called by preferred name
  • Having privacy respected
  • Having a sense of purpose, and
  • Receiving assistance with care when it is needed. [3]

This definition is consistent with the meaning of dying with dignity reported by patients, health professionals and families. [4] With advanced illness and towards the end of life many people who require palliative care are unable to state their preferences. When others make decisions on behalf of a person, there are two questions they can ask to understand what they should do.

  • What is in the older person's best interest?
  • What has the older person said or done in the past that would suggest what they would want us to do for them now?

Many older people may already have an advance directive. This may say who should make decisions on their behalf. It may give directions for specific care. Advance directives assist families and health care professionals to follow the resident's wishes.

How Careworkers can help

Careworkers can make an important contribution to helping meet the older person’s palliative care needs by:

  • Doing the simple things well, and paying attention to detail. Care given competently and respectfully will be noticed and appreciated, by the older person and family
  • Assisting the older person to “continue to live while dying”, to follow usual activities or interests as much as possible
  • Recording and reporting observations about the older person’s pain and response to pain relief accurately
  • Reporting pain observations during carer movement of resident
  • Recording and reporting the older person’s likes and dislikes, behaviours and responses to care ensures that their preferences will continue to be respected, even if they cannot communicate
  • Minimising noise and disturbance in the vicinity of the older person reduces distress for the person and for family members
  • Recording behaviour and pain observations accurately and in a timely manner to ensure good care planning and funding claims under ACFI if cared for in residential aged care.

Useful Tip

Many relatives find comfort in talking about their loved one, as they were in the past, and appreciate someone listening to their story. It helps them to feel that staff understand the person he or she was and to treat them as an individual. You don’t have to say much, just take the time to really listen.

Looking for further education in palliative care?

Palliative approach and dementia care education for careworkers are core components in Certificate 4 in Ageing Support (CHC 43015), and dementia care education is an elective component of the Certificate 3 in Individual Support (Ageing) (CHC 33015).

The palliAGED Practice Tip Sheets for careworkers provide useful information on providing palliative care for older people.

Policy Changes

Concern has been expressed for some time that there is no agency responsible for regulating or monitoring the conduct of careworkers at a national level. In 2015 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council developed a national Code of Conduct for healthcare workers. A national register of persons found to be in breach of the National Code will be created.

Page created 13 March 2019

  • References

  • Find out more

  • Related palliAGED pages

  1. Carlson AL. Death in the nursing home: resident family and staff perspectives. J Gerontol Nurs. 2007 Apr;33(4):32-41.
  2. Bauer M, Nay R. Family and staff partnerships in long-term care. A review of the literature. J Gerontol Nurs. 2003 Oct;29(10):46-53.
  3. Gallgher A, Li S, Wainwright P, Jones IR, Lee D. Dignity in the care of older people- a review of the theoretical and empirical literature. BMC Nurs. 2008 Jul 11;(7):11.
  4. Guo, Qiaohong ; Jacelon, Cynthia S. An integrative review of dignity in end-of-life care. Palliative Medicine, July 2014, Vol.28(7), pp.931-940