I learned to care for the elderly when in college. I was interested in working in a nursing home as those positions usually had hours available after classes, that paid well, and would provide me, a biology student, with healthcare experience. The following steps prepared me well for employment:
1) Becoming a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)
The first thing I did was enroll in a course through a local community college to become a CNA. I would recommend this step even for someone who will be doing volunteer work or caring for a family member. Some seemingly basic tasks (i.e. toileting, bathing, or assisting the movement of an adult) are not as intuitive as they may seem and, if done improperly, could result in injury to yourself or the individual receiving the care. These courses are typically inexpensive and can be completed in one semester.
2) Pursuing Additional Medical Training
Although it might not be a specific requirement of the CNA course you are in, to learn some basic medical skills such as taking a blood sugar, blood pressure, pulse, and counting respirations, will be invaluable in any line of work with the elderly. I learned these skills by request during my CNA course, during clinicals, and while working in the nursing home. Also try to find opportunities to work with stool and urine samples, feeding tubes, catheters, colostomy bags, dentures, and other more specialized needs.
3) Watching Care Providers With Experience
If you have not spent a great deal of time with the elderly, some situations you find yourself in will seem very uncomfortable at first. Don’t be ashamed if you feel disgusted, embarrassed, or nervous at times, particularly around those whose bodies and minds are shutting down. Even if this is a family member you have known your whole life, dementia, depression, stress and change can make that person seem like a stranger. They are not. And they need your steadfast love and compassion now more than ever.
Take opportunities to assist experienced nurses, clergymen and women, hospice workers, and family members who have been caring for loved ones for years. Don’t shy away from the room of someone who is dying. Don’t pull away from hugs and pats on the arm. Always sit and listen. Having these opportunities for contact and communication will be your real learning experience. The more you absorb the environment and the processes, the easier it will be to remember the people inside of the bodies you are tending to, and you will learn to care for the elderly with respect, compassion and skill.