One of the very best gifts I gave us during this stressful year was hiring a paid visitor to entertain my mother at her assisted living residence 1-2 days each week for a few hours. “Super Amber” has come into our lives–an actress by night, and bubbly, peppy, creative, smile-enhancer for my mom by day.
At first, the whole idea of hiring out got me fuming. Why should I have to pay extra for outside help to keep Mom stimulated when she’s already giving them $4,000/month to do that??? Not to mention that she will soon run out of her hard-earned savings.
It didn’t seem right or fair to have to pay for this, but the alternatives of either moving her again (after 2 recent stressful moves), or watching her suffer, bored to death in her room and feeling like an “inmate”, as she’d started to call herself, didn’t sit right with me either.
She’d made it more than clear that she wanted to get out daily, talk to interesting, conversational people, and she had become stubbornly set on refusing all the activities that she felt were demeaning her at her residence. Mom also stopped heading out to lunch with them on the bus for lunch once a week because she doesn’t like “old people restaurants” or fast food–their default destination. To her residence’s credit, it’s daunting, if not completely impossible, to take a bus full of people with dementia to an artsy little cafe or a cute little neighborhood restaurant.
Though Mom was never wealthy, she was always (and still is) classy, and she’s hell-bent on retaining her standards- even as her mind fails, her feet stumble, and food slops unnoticed all over her torso.
Eventually, the reality of her unhappiness and my exhaustion started kicking me in the butt, overpowering my financial concerns, and what has evolved to become most important is that she and I have as much peace and contentment in the present as we can cultivate, rather than squandering what remains of her money for when she might not be aware enough to enjoy it.
In order to get to that peace, we needed to find balance by expanding our circle of caregiving. Due to our tiny, geographically-challenged family, I knew that would mean a paid helper.
Once I got to the point of deciding that extra money was worth it, the process got fun. I opted to hire directly, knowing that paying an agency $30 for a caregiver meant that s/he would make at best a third of that amount. I crafted an ad listing exactly what qualities I wanted this dream helper to embody, leaving nothing to the imagination about the reality of Mom’s moodswings and personality, or the references and background checks I required.
I got many responses, but ended up phone interviewing a small handful of people who actually met all the criteria and had references in place. Amber was clearly the head of the bunch with her professional, upbeat communication. I had her come over to meet Mom and chat with me for a final interview. She was even better in person, and has not disappointed.
When it came down to paying, I decided to use my money, since Amber helps me as much as she helps Mom, and I have faith that somehow it all evens out in the end. I know hiring out is not within everyone’s means, but for what it’s worth, we live very simply; we’re a low/mid income family. We share a car, don’t have many luxuries. I feel incredibly fortunate that we could afford to do this right now, but it’s also a matter of priorities – one of them being emotional sanity for all of us!
There are many, many good reasons to go through an agency for this process- legal and otherwise- if you have the funds and you know of a good one. But since I had worked as a private dementia caregiver for a family during college, I had a visceral idea of how the process works, felt confident I could reel in a good person, and knew some things to watch out for. And I knew I wanted that very valuable “clone” of me to make very good money during those four hours per week- as much as I make per hour, in order to get a quality person who would hopefully last.
I’ve pasted one of the ads I posted below, just so you can get one idea of how I tried to encourage above-average applicants. As someone who has been on both ends of this process, I feel it’s incredibly helpful and timesaving to be super specific. Hide nothing. If you’re paying a decent wage, you can ask for a lot, and you just might get it!
Seeking Smart, Sassy, Creative Senior Companion (Over 40)
Looking for a mature woman (ideally over 40, and the older the better!) to be a companion, listener, and fun-enhancer for my sometimes challenging mother, in her assisted living facility. She’s eager to get out for fun, and needs some extra stimulation. She still has good long-term memory, a rich vocabulary, nice sense of humor, and would love to spend time with someone who’s interested in health, travel, gardening, art/culture, and ideas. She dislikes bingo, TV, football games, and card-playing. Flowers and birds are her favorite pastimes, and help her move out of her negative state when she gets stuck in her head.
You do not need medical experience, and no personal care is required. She has staff for that. You would be the intellectual stimulator, the encourager of walks and exercise- even walking to the courtyard at her residence, to sit and look at the flowers and birds, which she loves.
She has good days, very bad days, everything in between, and sometimes feels depressed and anxious to the point of panic about her condition, and not living the way she would like to (independently). She can get very angry, critical, and teary, especially when her meds are wearing off.
Currently I’m looking for three visits per week for 1 hour each, or two longer visits, probably on Monday, Wed, and Friday during the day. Hours might be expanded if it works out for both of you.
When you respond, please be very clear about why you would fit this job description, what your experience is with dementia and/or working for older or disabled people who need assistance. Please also include fantastic personal and professional references and indicate your willingness for a thorough background check.
For those of you who have hired private help, what was your process and experience like? Did you use an agency? Any good tips I missed? Please share your comments.