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Personal Care of Patients for CNAs and HHAs

1 Contact Hour
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This peer reviewed course is applicable for the following professions:
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Home Health Aid (HHA), Licensed Nursing Assistant (LNA), Medical Assistant (MA), Medication Aide
This course will be updated or discontinued on or before Monday, September 22, 2025

Nationally Accredited

CEUFast, Inc. is accredited as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation. ANCC Provider number #P0274.


≥92% of participants will correctly perform personal care.


Following the completion of this course, the participant will be able to accomplish the following objectives:

  1. Identify principles of personal care.
  2. Identify infection control actions.
  3. Identify equipment for transfer.
  4. Identify incontinence management equipment.
  5. List ways to prevent bedsores.
CEUFast Inc. and the course planners for this educational activity do not have any relevant financial relationship(s) to disclose with ineligible companies whose primary business is producing, marketing, selling, re-selling, or distributing healthcare products used by or on patients.

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Personal Care of Patients for CNAs and HHAs
To earn of certificate of completion you have one of two options:
  1. Take test and pass with a score of at least 80%
  2. Reflect on practice impact by completing self-reflection, self-assessment and course evaluation.
    (NOTE: Some approval agencies and organizations require you to take a test and self reflection is NOT an option.)
Author:    Julia Tortorice (RN, MBA, MSN, NEA-BC, CPHQ)


Patients have the right to care, treatment, and services that safeguard their personal dignity and respect their cultural, psychosocial, and spiritual values. These values often affect the patient's treatment needs and preferences. By understanding and respecting patients and their values, healthcare workers can help meet patients' needs for treatment and services and protect their rights. When a patient has dementia or is not conscious, there is a tendency to consider them as objects instead of a person. These patients' privacy and rights must be protected. Patients have the right to participate in decisions about their care and set the course of their treatment. Patients have the right to considerate, respectful, non-discriminatory, and compassionate care. Respect means valuing the patients' needs, desires, feelings, and ideas. Treat patients with common courtesy. For example, knock and wait before entering a patient's room, respond politely to patients, listen to patients, and remain compassionate. All patients have the right to fair and equal health care services regardless of the following:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Level of education
  • Place of residence or business
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Personal appearance
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Genetic information
  • Source of payment

CNAs and HHAs can perform personal care services, including hands-on assistance and speaking directions in patient care tasks. CNAs and HHAs are supervised by an RN and follow a care plan developed by an RN. There may not be an RN or care plan in assisted living facilities. Personal care services vary based on care planning and state regulations. These services may include:

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Personal hygiene
  • Transferring
  • Ambulating
  • Assistance with eating
  • Activities of daily living
  • Meal preparation
  • Housekeeping chores

One goal of personal care services is to meet patients' needs while maintaining dignity and independence. Patients must do as much as possible for themselves (Caregiving Basics, 2019). The patient may be slow in dressing, but the patient must keep dressing themself to maintain as much function as possible. When patients do not get up to walk, sit up, or use their hands, they lose function more quickly. Patients also benefit from exercise. If specific exercises are on the care plan, a CNA or HHA can coach a patient in doing a range of motion and strengthening exercise.

Patients deserve to make choices when they can. Let them choose what to eat, wear, and do other activities if possible. Patients also need mental stimulation unless the care plan says differently. Some patients with dementia react badly to stimulation and changes in routine. This may be new people, new places, and different eating times.

Infection Control

Treat any laundry that has body fluids as if it is contaminated. Use disposable gloves to handle anything that has bodily waste. This includes tissues, paper towels, or diapers. Put the contaminated waste in a leak-proof heavy-duty bag and tie it shut. Put the material in a second plastic bag. Follow local regulations for solid waste disposal. Most areas use normal trash pickup. Feces should be flushed down the toilet. Use a puncture-resistance container to dispose of syringes, needles, and blades.

Use cleaning products recommended by your agency. If no recommended products are available, a bleach solution of 2 teaspoons per one gallon of water or ¼ teaspoon per quart can be used. Make a fresh solution every time you use it (Caregiving and Housekeeping, 2019).

Rules about assistance with medication vary by state and agency. Follow your agency's requirements. Follow your agency's requirements and the patient's care plan about reminding the patient to take medication or put medication within the patient's reach.


RNs, PTs, or OTs will obtain assistive equipment as needed, but CNAs and HHAs may request equipment. Equipment that can be used to improve safety for workers and patients (Galinsky & Burnett, 2010):

  • Hoist or lift
  • Rolling toileting and showering chair
  • Wheelchair
  • Bedside commode
  • Raised toilet seat
  • Grab bars
  • Adjustable bed
  • Bed rails
  • Lift chairs
  • Walkers
  • Canes
  • Slip sheets
  • Friction reducing devices

Healthcare workers must be trained in the use of these devices. Do not try to use equipment when you are not trained.

Fall Risk

Falls are the main cause of injury-related deaths in the elderly. Any elderly patient you work with should have a fall risk assessment and plan of care to prevent falls.

Things that contribute to falls:

  • Low light
  • Impaired hearing
  • Impaired vision
  • Mobility problems
  • Obstacles on the floor

If a patient falls, ask the patient if they are okay. Check for bleeding. If the patient is injured, in pain, or cannot move part of their body, call 911 immediately (Healthy Transfers, 2019).

If the patient thinks they can get up, bring a chair close to the patient. Ask the patient to roll onto their side and get on their knees. Next, ask the patient to support himself with the chair while he stands up. Do not attempt to lift the patient by yourself (Healthy Transfers, 2019).


When assisting a patient to stand up, a high, firm chair that has arms is easiest. A raised toilet may be used. A slide may be used to transfer patients. Use a lift if you are trained in the use of the lift. A gentle rocking motion may be used to assist the patient in standing.

When assisting a patient in moving, tell the patient what you plan to do. Allow time for the patients to do as asked. Do not pull the patient by the arms or legs. Hold onto the patient's trunk and hips. A wide waist transfer belt gives you a secure grip (Galinsky & Burnett, 2010).

When lifting, bend from the hips and knees. Keep your back and neck straight. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand as close to the patient as possible(Galinsky & Burnett, 2010).

To pull a patient up in bed, lower the head of the bed to flat. Have the patient raise their knees and assist in pushing up.

When working with a patient in bed, position yourself so that you do not have to stretch, bend, or reach (Galinsky & Burnett, 2010).

Devices that assist in caring for and moving patients are (Galinsky & Burnett, 2010):

  • Lifting hoists
  • Rolling toileting and shower chairs
  • Grab bars
  • Adjustable beds
  • Raised toilet seats
  • Slip sheets

Personal Hygiene


Bathing can be very pleasant. Encourage the patient to bathe themselves as much as possible. Have all the bathing supplies ready before starting. Keep the room warm and respect the patient's privacy. Inspect the patient's skin while bathing. Notify your supervisor of changes or red areas.

Bathing every day may not be needed in elderly patients who are not regularly active—Wash hands, face, and genital areas every day. Patients have a choice to bathe or not. Especially with dementia, bathing may not be wanted. If the patient is refusing baths, notify your supervisor.

Tub baths, showers, and sponge bathing are part of the care plan. Ask the RN if the method of bathing is not clear. Remember, the goal is to keep the person up and going if possible.

Hot water can burn, be careful and test the water yourself. Do not use bath oil products because it causes the tub to be slippery and may cause a fall.

Safety equipment for bathing includes:

  • Grab bars
  • Rubber mats, non-skid surfaces, or decals on the tub floor
  • Non-skid bathmats, like the ones with a rubber mat
  • Bath slide or board
  • Bath bench
  • Walk-in bathtubs
  • Shower chairs
  • Hand-held shower attachment

Soaking a patient's feet for a limited time and toenail filing is allowed. Foot soaks and nail filing are not allowed for patients with diabetes or severe peripheral vascular disease. Cutting toenails is never allowed.

Mouth Care

  • Clean teeth at least once a day
  • Check dentures regularly for cracks
  • Remove dentures for cleaning and store in liquid when out of the mouth
  • Have dentures checked if they do not fit properly (a common cause of eating problems)

Hair Care

Shampoos may be provided unless restricted by the care plan. Combing, setting hair with curlers/pins, and blow-drying the hair are allowed. The blow dryer must be used on the low setting following the manufacturer's recommendations. The use of curling irons, electric curlers, or haircutting is not allowed. Using chemical hair products is not allowed.

Washing hair in the kitchen sink is an option if the tub or shower is too difficult. Devices can be made for catching water when washing hair in bed. A dry shampoo product can be used when washing is difficult (Personal Care: Grooming and Dressing, 2019).

Skin Care

Do not apply any lotion that is not on the care plan. If lotion is on the care plan, do not apply lotion between the toes because it may cause fungus. CNAs and HHAs cannot apply medicated creams. Care of ulcers or open wounds is not allowed. Treatment with hot packs, hot water bottles, and electric heating pads is not allowed. Treatment with a cold pack or ice is not allowed.

Shaving is allowed. An electric shaver is preferable. Put the patient in a sitting position and put dentures in the person's mouth before shaving him. Straight razors are never allowed.


Assist or coach the patient when they are dressing. Allow plenty of time. The patient must dress themselves as much as possible. Let the patient choose what to wear. Be flexible and considerate of the patient's desires. Wearing a bra or pantyhose may or may not be important to the patient. Easy-to-use clothing should be used; this includes large fasteners in the front. Zippers or Velcro is easier to manage than buttons. Elastic waistbands and slip-on shoes are easier than button paints or shoes that tie. Shoes and slippers need to be well-fitting.

If the patient has a weak or painful side, put the sleeve on the weak side first. When removing the clothes, take off the strong arm first. Anti-embolism stockings are only allowed if it is on the care plan.

Assistance with personal items is allowed; this includes:

  • Dentures
  • Hearing aids
  • Eyeglasses

Assistance with other personal items is only allowed if it is on the care plan and the patient is mentally alert. This includes:

  • Braces
  • Splints
  • Slings
  • Prostheses

Assistance with contact lenses or new braces, splints, prostheses, or slings is not allowed.

Incontinence Management

Incontinence is not a normal part of aging or most illnesses. If incontinence starts, notify your supervisor. The incontinence may be due to something that can be treated. Emptying and changing urinary bags, as well as routine catheter care, is allowed.

Devices that can help with toileting are:

  • Grab bar
  • Raised toilet seat
  • Bedside commode
  • Bedpan
  • Urinal
  • Disposable pad, brief, and undergarment
  • Plastic mattress cover

You may be assisting with a bowel/bladder training regime. That usually includes toileting every 2 hours. If that is too often, start with every 3-4 hours. Rushing when there is an urge may result in incontinence.

The following actions are not allowed:

  • Applying a condom/Texas catheter
  • Manual disimpactions
  • Douche
  • Enema
  • Ostomy care


For hearing impairments, face the patient and speak clearly. Use short sentences. Repeat yourself as needed. Do not shout. Touch the patient to get their attention. Keep background noise to a minimum (Helping with Disabilities, 2019).

For visual impairments, make sure the lighting is good. Do not move furniture around. Keep clutter off the floors. Use black and white clocks and telephones. Large numbers and letters are easier to read. Keep glasses close and clean. Mark knobs and devices with dots or tape to identify where to turn or push the knobs. Use the back burners and turn the handles toward the stove to stop accidental spills (Helping with Disabilities, 2019).

For speech impairments, keep a pencil, pen, and paper close. Do not talk for the patient. Do not talk in front of the patient to another person as if they cannot hear what you are saying (Helping with Disabilities, 2019).

For loss of a limb or use of a limb, assist as needed. Ask the patient what they want to be done for them or review the care plan. Do not over-assist the patient. The patient needs to maintain as much function as possible. They also need to maintain their self-respect. Elevating an impaired limb will help reduce swelling (Helping with Disabilities, 2019).

Bed Sores

Bedsores are also called pressure sores, decubitus ulcers, or pressure ulcers. Bedsores are painful and hard to heal. A sore happens when blood vessels get squeezed between a surface and bony areas. Typically, people would feel the pressure and move. Some patients are not able to move or do not feel the pressure. Rubbing and friction also cause sores. When parts of the patient's skin are pulled across a surface, rubbing and friction can cause sores. Continued exposure to wetness causes bed sores. It is important to remove urine and feces.

To prevent pressure sores:

  1. Keep the skin clean and dry
  2. Encourage moving and getting out of bed
  3. Provide a well-balanced diet
  4. Offer fluids frequently, 6-8 cups every day, including Jell-O, sherbet, soup, and popsicles
  5. For patients who cannot move themselves:
    1. Reposition every two hours if the patient cannot move themselves
    2. Use foam mattresses or special beds
    3. Pad bony areas with pillows when positioning
    4. Use a pillow under the calf or special padding to keep heels off the bed when lying on the back
    5. Position correctly in the chair
    6. Pad hands open with a rolled washcloth

Pressure sores occur in four stages (Pressure Sores, 2019):

  1. The skin becomes warm and red in the area covering the bone. This redness does not disappear after 15 minutes of pressure relief, and the skin has no break.
  2. An open wound appears in the form of a blister, which is red and painful.
  3. The skin breaks, and the wound drains through the top layer of the skin. The area surrounding the wound or blister is red, but the sore is no longer painful.
  4. The wound opens down to the muscle or bone and continues to drain. If the wound is not open, it may be covered by a black scab. The area around the wound will continue to be red.


If the patient needs help eating, treat him like an adult, give him choices, do not scold him for not eating or spilling, and do not rush mealtime. Encourage independence. Sit the person up with the head tilted slightly forward to help to swallow. Make sure dentures and glasses are used when eating if needed. Provide finger food if using a fork and spoon is hard. Cup your hand over the patient's hand to assist with eating. Bendable straws are useful when someone is drinking in bed. A thin sponge or nonslip pad will keep the plate from sliding around. Using divided plates or plates with rims helps in scooping food. Larger spoons and forks are easier to use.

When feeding a patient, sit on the strong side if the patient has had a stroke. Tell the patient what you are feeding him. The patient may need to be reminded to chew and swallow (Help with Eating, 2019).

If the appetite is poor or the patient refuses to eat, turn off the TV and reduce other distractions to help the patient focus on eating. Use smaller portions and limit the number of things on a plate. Appetite may improve when mealtime is enjoyable. Check for tooth pain, mouth pain, or denture problems if the patient suddenly stops eating.

If the patient chokes easily or has trouble swallowing, check the care plan to see if you can feed the patient. If you are approved to provide tube feeding, follow your employer's policy and procedure.

Select one of the following methods to complete this course.

Take TestPass an exam testing your knowledge of the course material.
No TestDescribe how this course will impact your practice.

Implicit Bias Statement

CEUFast, Inc. is committed to furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While reflecting on this course content, CEUFast, Inc. would like you to consider your individual perspective and question your own biases. Remember, implicit bias is a form of bias that impacts our practice as healthcare professionals. Implicit bias occurs when we have automatic prejudices, judgments, and/or a general attitude towards a person or a group of people based on associated stereotypes we have formed over time. These automatic thoughts occur without our conscious knowledge and without our intentional desire to discriminate. The concern with implicit bias is that this can impact our actions and decisions with our workplace leadership, colleagues, and even our patients. While it is our universal goal to treat everyone equally, our implicit biases can influence our interactions, assessments, communication, prioritization, and decision-making concerning patients, which can ultimately adversely impact health outcomes. It is important to keep this in mind in order to intentionally work to self-identify our own risk areas where our implicit biases might influence our behaviors. Together, we can cease perpetuating stereotypes and remind each other to remain mindful to help avoid reacting according to biases that are contrary to our conscious beliefs and values.


  • Caregiving and housekeeping. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Caregiving Basics. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Galinsky, T., & Burnett, G. (2010). Strains, sprains, and pains in home healthcare: Working in an uncontrolled environment | | blogs | CDC. NIOSH Science Blog. Visit Source.
  • Healthy transfers. (2019). Na. Visit Source.
  • Help with eating. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Helping with disabilities. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Personal care: Grooming and dressing. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Pressure sores. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.
  • Toileting and incontinence. (2019). National Caregivers Library. Visit Source.