FAQ: What Does a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) Do?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What does a personal care assistant (PCA) do?

Expert Answer

Angil Tarach-Ritchey is a nurse and geriatric care manager who writes the Aging in America blog and speaks nationally on eldercare issues. She's the owner of Visiting Angels, a home care agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and contributes to Alzheimer's Reading Room, NurseTogether, and other websites.

A personal care assistant does tasks that require physical contact with the patient, such as:





Incontinence care

Nail care (unless the patient has diabetes)

This is in addition to companionship and housekeeping duties such as cooking and light cleaning. PCAs also help patients take their medications and should be capable of changing the bed with a patient still in it, which is a skill they need special training for.

The laws that regulate personal care assistants are different in each state; some states have regulations governing the training and certification required to be a PCA, and some states are unregulated. According to regulations, PCAs can't provide medical services, such as diabetes care, but they can help clients with tasks such as putting on support stockings or bandaging superficial wounds. PCAs can assist with mobility, such as helping someone use a brace, walker, or wheelchair, but if the PCA is providing transfers from bed to wheelchair or from wheelchair to car, be sure they have the training to do it safely.

If the patient is heavy, the PCA will need to learn techniques both to prevent the person from falling and to avoid being injured on the job. If the person needing care is very heavy or is too weak to bear any weight, you'll need to get a lift in the home to reduce the risk both to the patient and the personal care assistant.