The Challenges and Rewards of Working in Aged Care

Posted 7th June 2024 | 7 minute read

Written by Jesse Gramenz 


Aged care can be a really challenging industry to work in. But on the flip side, where there's time and effort, there's also reward and satisfaction. So, how do you weigh up both sides to find out whether working in aged care is right for you? Let's lay out the challenges and rewards of working in aged care and find out.

The Challenges of Working in Aged Care

It can be very physically demanding

One of the primary aged care job challenges is the physical strain. 

Care workers in partiuclar often have to lift or assist immobile patients, which can lead to physical fatigue or even sometimes injuries. 

Lifting and Transferring Patients

  • One of the most physically demanding tasks in aged care is the lifting and transferring of patients. 
  • Many residents have limited mobility and need assistance moving from their bed to a wheelchair, or from a chair to the bathroom.

Assisting with Daily Activities

  • Care workers often help residents with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and grooming. 

Long Hours on Your Feet

  • The nature of aged care work often means spending long hours on your feet. 
  • Whether assisting residents, performing housekeeping duties, or responding to emergencies, care workers are rarely sitting down while they're working

Operating Medical Equipment

  • In many aged care facilities, care workers are responsible for operating various types of medical equipment. 
  • Operating equipment can include everything from lifting aids and wheelchairs to more complex machines

Risk of Injury

  • Common injuries include back strains, pulled muscles, and joint issues. These injuries often result from improper lifting techniques, overexertion, or slips and falls. 
  • Regular training and the use of assistive devices can help mitigate the risk of injury, but they can still present as an issue when doing physical work

Managing Physical Fatigue

  • Physical fatigue is a common challenge for aged care workers. The cumulative effect of lifting, moving, and assisting residents throughout the day can lead to severe tiredness. 
  • Proper rest, hydration, and nutrition are essential to manage this fatigue and maintain the energy needed to perform effectively.

Aged care can be emotionally challenging too

Whether it's through the bonds formed through working with older residents, or the emotional support that workers can provide to families, the emotional challenges of working in aged care a constant factor. You really do have to be a special, empathetic and resilient person to be able to do it really well.

Forming emotional bonds with people who will eventually pass away

  • Care workers often develop close relationships with their residents. Spending so much time together, providing intimate care, and sharing life stories naturally leads to strong emotional connections. 
  • While these bonds can be incredibly rewarding, they also make it difficult when a resident's health declines or when they pass away. 

Providing emotional support to residents and families

  • In addition to physical care, aged care workers provide crucial emotional support to their residents. Many elderly individuals face loneliness, depression, and anxiety, especially if they have limited contact with family and friends. 
  • Care workers become confidants and emotional anchors, listening to their worries, offering comfort, and trying to improve their emotional well-being. This responsibility can be emotionally draining over time.

pastoral carer talking with aged care resident

At St Vincent's, there are pastoral care teams that help residents through the spiritual and emotional challenges that come with getting older and living in aged care. 📷 St Vincent's Care Bardon

Working with residents who are doing it tough

  • Witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of residents can be very challenging. Many residents in aged care facilities have chronic illnesses, dementia, or are in the final stages of life. 
  • Observing their pain, confusion, or frustration can evoke feelings of helplessness and sadness in caregivers.

Balancing professionalism and empathy

  • Aged care workers must strike a delicate balance between professionalism and empathy. They need to provide compassionate care while maintaining appropriate boundaries to protect their own emotional health. 
  • This balance is crucial, but it can be difficult to achieve, especially in emotionally charged situations. Care workers must find ways to manage their feelings without becoming detached or indifferent.

Managing family dynamics

  • Interacting with residents' families is another emotional challenge. Families often look to care workers for reassurance and support, especially during difficult times. 
  • Care workers must navigate these interactions with sensitivity and patience, providing updates on their loved one's condition and offering emotional support to the family. These interactions can be emotionally taxing, particularly if the family is experiencing grief or distress. But they can also be incredibly rewarding -- when you help families you are a hero!

The Benefits of Working in Aged Care

People who work in aged care get a lot of satisfaction from their work

Despite the challenges, the people who work in aged care get an immense amount of satisfaction from working with seniors. Many care workers report a deep sense of fulfillment from making a difference in the lives of their residents. 

Knowing you're making a difference

  • One of the most significant sources of job satisfaction in aged care is the knowledge that you are making a tangible difference in people's lives. 
  • Caregivers provide essential support and companionship to elderly individuals who often have limited mobility or health issues. The positive impact on residents' quality of life is a powerful motivator and source of pride.

Building meaningful relationships

  • Caregivers often form close, meaningful relationships with their residents. 
  • Listening to residents' life stories, sharing experiences, and providing comfort can create a deep sense of fulfillment. 

a st vincent's staff member with an aged care resident in a garden

Working in aged care residents do really become like your family 📷 St Vincent's Care Carseldine

Receiving gratitude and appreciation

  • Receiving gratitude and appreciation from residents and their families is another significant aspect of job satisfaction. 
  • Simple gestures like a heartfelt thank you, a smile, or a small token of appreciation can make a caregiver's day. Knowing that your work is valued and recognized boosts morale and makes your role feel so much more worthwhile

Personal and professional growth

  • The field of aged care offers numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth. Caregivers can develop a wide range of skills, from medical and technical abilities to emotional intelligence and communication skills. 
  • Many facilities offer training programs and career advancement opportunities, allowing caregivers to specialize in areas such as dementia care, palliative care, or supervisory roles. This potential for growth keeps the job interesting and provides long-term career satisfaction.

Teamwork and camaraderie

  • Working in aged care often involves being part of a close-knit team. The sense of camaraderie and mutual support among staff members can be a significant source of job satisfaction. 
  • Collaborating with colleagues, sharing experiences, and supporting each other through challenges fosters a positive work environment and enhances overall job satisfaction.

Flexibility and variety

  • Aged care jobs can offer flexibility in terms of work schedules. Many facilities operate 24/7, providing opportunities for various shifts that can accommodate different lifestyles and preferences
  •  Additionally, the job itself is rarely the same every day giving caregivers a variety of situations and challenges daily. There's rarely a dull day working in aged care.

Emotional Rewards

  • The emotional rewards of aged care are also immense. Providing comfort to someone in their final days, helping a resident regain some independence, or simply being a steady presence in their life can be incredibly fulfilling. 
  • The emotional connections and the knowledge that you are providing compassionate care add a deep sense of meaning to the job.

People who work (and stay) in aged care can quickly grow their careers

Aged care career growth is another significant benefit of working in the industry. The aged care industry is expanding, with increasing demand for skilled workers. This growth offers numerous opportunities for career advancement. From moving into supervisory roles to specializing in areas such as dementia care or palliative care, the pathways for career development are varied and promising.

Entry-Level Positions

Starting a career in aged care often begins with entry-level positions such as personal care assistants (PCAs) or support workers. These roles involve providing direct care to residents, including assistance with daily activities, personal hygiene, and mobility. Entry-level positions are an excellent way to gain hands-on experience and develop a solid understanding of the care environment.

Specialized Roles

As you gain experience and additional training, there are opportunities to specialize in specific areas of aged care. Some specialized roles include:

  • Dementia Care Specialist: Working with residents who have dementia requires specialized knowledge and skills. Dementia care specialists focus on creating supportive environments and tailored care plans to enhance the quality of life for these residents.
  • Palliative Care Specialist: Providing end-of-life care is a highly specialized area that requires compassionate and skilled caregivers. Palliative care specialists focus on managing symptoms and providing emotional support to residents and their families.
  • Rehabilitation and Therapy Roles: Positions such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech therapists work with residents to improve their functional abilities and overall well-being.

Supervisory and Management Roles

With experience, aged care workers, but particularly nurses can move into supervisory or management positions. These roles involve overseeing the daily operations of a care facility, managing staff, and ensuring the delivery of high-quality care. Key supervisory and management positions include:

  • Team Leader or Supervisor: Responsible for leading a team of care workers, ensuring that care plans are followed, and providing support and training to staff.
  • Facility Manager: Oversees the entire operation of a care facility, including staff management, budget control, and ensuring compliance with regulations and standards.
  • Clinical Manager: Focuses on the clinical aspects of care, ensuring that medical and nursing care provided to residents meets high standards.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Continual learning is a crucial aspect of career growth in aged care. Many facilities support their staff in pursuing further education and training through:

  • Certificate and Diploma Programs: These programs provide specialized training in areas such as dementia care, palliative care, and leadership.
  • Higher Education: Pursuing a degree in nursing, social work, or healthcare management can open up advanced career opportunities.
  • Professional Development Workshops: Regular workshops and training sessions help caregivers stay updated on best practices, new technologies, and emerging trends in aged care.

Parting Thoughts

Working in aged care can be really challenging. But the physical and emotional challenges are what makes the rewards of job satisfaction, career growth, and personal fulfillment so worthwhile. If you're passionate about making a tangible difference in people's lives and are prepared for the challenges, a career in aged care can be incredibly rewarding.

Still have questions?

st vincent's call centre worker