Professional Caregivers Function As Your Family Lookout


When caring for a senior, various conditions can arise that are difficult to detect but often have some key indicators. Mood swings, new eating habits, fluctuations in weight, hallucinations or physical injuries are all changes that could point to a serious underlying issue, like a urinary tract infection (UTI), advancing cognitive impairment, or increasing fall risk.

Professional caregivers hired through a reputable home care company can serve as the eyes and ears for a family who cannot personally provide full-time care. This is especially helpful for family members who aren't primary caregivers because of work and family obligations or because they live some distance away. A professional caregiver’s training and supervision are essential for identifying problems before they become larger, potentially life-threatening issues.

Caregivers Are Trained to Notice and Act on Subtle Changes

Detecting a new behavior or condition, while certainly challenging, isn't a professional caregiver’s only responsibility. They must also determine when it is appropriate to alert a client’s family members to the changes and inform them of the plan of action.

Both medically skilled and unskilled in-home caregivers are educated on signs to look for in clients. Home care companies have a registered nurse or care coordinator on staff who oversees seniors’ care plans and regularly assesses their health conditions to see if any modifications need to be made or medical steps must be taken.

The Department of Health governs the requirements for reporting health issues, but these requirements may vary by location. Check with your local agency for specifics. Services such as Partners in Care, an affiliate of the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York, follow strict protocols set by the governing authority within their state. This includes identifying a new health issue in the home and notifying the family in a timely manner.

How Professional Caregivers Handle Seniors’ Evolving Care

  • Step 1: Identify the Problem
    A professional caregiver’s chief tasks are to know their senior’s routines, understand their common behaviors and monitor for subtle changes. Whether it's a development in the senior’s mental or physical state, the caregivers are trained to be on the lookout for the smallest indicators of change.
  • Step 2: Report to a Supervisor
    Upon identifying a change or problem, professional caregivers should immediately report to the clinical manager.
  • Step 3: Initial Assessment and Assignment
    The manager should then document and assess the situation to determine next steps. Depending on the severity of the issue, the supervisor may advise anything from a simple care plan adjustment or doctor’s appointment, to a visit to the emergency room.
  • Step 4: Family Notification and Discussion of Future Care Options
    After the supervisor's assessment and a determination that the change could be part of a new or worsening health condition, the home care company will immediately contact the senior’s family members. If applicable, once a formal diagnosis and any necessary treatment recommendations have been made by a physician, the company and the family can discuss specific adjustments that need to be made to the plan of care to meet the senior’s evolving needs.

The key to this whole process is one firm commitment to quality care and transparency. If the issue is a legitimate concern, family members should be contacted within 24 hours of the initial report by the caregiver. Even if what they report doesn't result in a verified change in condition or care, the concern should still be detailed in a report and added to the client’s file. Gradual changes and seemingly small incidents can be valuable for a diagnosis later on.

No matter which home care company you choose for your loved one, understanding its policies for reporting changes is crucial. Even subtle variations could indicate a new condition that might require immediate attention from a doctor. The sooner these are detected and you are notified, the sooner you can weigh options for new medical and/or therapeutic treatments to combat the problem.

Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). In this role, she coordinates patient care and manages a multi-disciplinary team of field nursing and home health care professionals in the clinical area of a VNSNY’s private care division.

Partners in Care

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


I have been on a much needed, out-of-state vacation for a week. As I was preparing to leave, the home health aides at the independent/assisted living facility where my mother lives, called 911 three days in a row. First day because she really felt bad, but ER couldn't find anything wrong. Second day she was diagnosed with a UTI and sent home with antibiotics. The third day, she fell in her room, hit her head, was diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalized. The home health aides were the ones that knew it was necessary to call 911. At first I thought they might be overreacting, but they were right. She went from the hospital to a rehab facility to regain her strength. I chose not to fly home, and have been calling everyone involved, several times a day, to stay updated. My mother is hard of hearing and wouldn't be able to talk to me on the phone, so I asked everyone to tell my mother I was in touch and knew what was happening.
My father needs a home health aid but he would most likely get a foreign one where he lives, and he's a very much "Archie Bunker" type and it would last about 5 minutes.
actually I think if you are out of state, there is very little chance you can actually really be in touch with your parent. you need to be there next to them.
if you can't do that, relying on someone else is just like playing telephone.
I say this as the main caregiver for my parents, I live very close (5 min or less, I could even walk), and the siblings hardly ever visit.
worse yet, while they rely on me for updates on the parents, once I honestly tell them how things are, then they say I'm lying to them.