Time to clone yourself? Hiring a little extra help for home or residences….

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!  

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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. 

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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.

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This entry was posted in caregiver stress, support, and respite, dementia, family issues, memory care and residential options and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Time to clone yourself? Hiring a little extra help for home or residences….

  1. Marty says:

    Meg,
    We thought of this idea for Dad because it was so exhausting caring for him. Hired someone through an agency. They picked a young girl, and we knew even without meeting her that it wasn’t going to work. But that’s because we needed way more than a mere companion. We needed Hercules to handle Dad.
    For Mom, we’ve had the great honor of having her Hospice volunteer stick with her for years after she’s been off Hospice. What a wonderful gift she is!
    I’ve often thought of volunteering to take people out of nursing homes for an hour or so, but I’d like to know how you handled the risk of having someone else drive your mother around. I’ve heard the liability keeps people from doing that even for money.
    What’s your advice?

  2. Hi Marty,

    Good point. Everyone will have their own comfort level with this, which merits respect. I would be very sad if a care person had to deal with the emotions of feeling responsible if something would happen to my mother in the car, but I would not hold her/him responsible for anything that happened from those kind of activities that are part of the job. I could just as easily have a problem with Mom in my car.

    Frankly, I worry more that my mom WON’T die while doing something fun, and instead will continue to slowly suffer emotionally due to her awareness of her rapidly increasing physical and mental disability, as she is now.

    Once I check the caregiver’s references and driver’s license, do some observing, and have good reason to believe it’s a positive experience, I let go and accept that I’m willing to take those risks.

    I think our specific situation is a bit easier than some trust-wise, because my mother is very verbal and sharp when it comes to reporting on her care. She lets me know every time one of her residential people neglects something, and she has a keen intuition aboout “bad apples”.

    When/if she gets to the point where she can’t do that, it might also be the point where I’d be less concerned about the verbal stimulation an extra caregiver is providing right now, so might cease hiring out for the extra companionship.

    Maybe you’re also referring to a legal system that would hold anyone accompanying Mom responsible for any act of seeming “negligence”, no matter how I felt about absolving the care person from any responsibility. If so, and if that’s been the case legally for well-meaning care providers, I’m not aware. Please fill me if I’m missing a piece here. There may be different rules about people no longer living under their own guardianship, in which case I would bet the county and/or state is much more involved.

    Thanks for bringing this up!
    Meg

  3. One more thing Marty- Sorry that I never directly addressed your situation in my last reply. Shouldn’t be doing this late at night! If I wanted to volunteer for outings at a nursing home, I would try to deal with the potential liability issue by trying to sign up formally through a volunteer agency, or work through the nursing home as one of their official volunteers. Their insurance should cover volunteers who are authorized, but it makes sense to research this on a case-by-case basis.

    Meg

  4. Pingback: Thoughtful Gifts for People with Dementia: 5 Creative Ideas Beyond the Usual | The Dopamine Diaries

  5. Suzanne says:

    Great ad! And great suggestions, thanks! My aunt is like your mom ~ hates bingo, card playing and all those standard assisted living facility activities. I have typically been the one to be her social stimulator. Love the idea that we could hire specifically for that. Thanks for addressing some of the related concerns and for being so bold about getting specifically what you desire. My aunt lives at home now but we upped our pay in order to get a more committed and better quality caregiver to “clone” me. I feel we have achieved as close as possible to that for a live-in. I agree that it’s important to assess when to spend the extra money while she can still appreciate the benefit. Our scrimping and saving the last 6 years doing it all ourselves is my justification for spending the money gradually now. And we try to be extra frugal about food shopping to help make up for it!

    • Hi Suzanne,

      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’re an amazing caregiver. Glad your aunt is going along with the extra help!
      What kind of dance do you like? (saw your username)

      The sad p.s. to this older blog post is that much to my dismay,
      my mother ultimately “fired” Super Amber!!! 😦
      Mom really liked her, as I did, but felt like she was “losing control over her life,” so requested that she take over the scheduling of Amber (even though I was paying her).
      I knew trouble was coming then, because Mom never wants anyone to visit until they get there. She forgets how much pleasure it gives her and says, “no, no, no- don’t have the energy today.”
      My husband and I have learned not to ask, and just show up, and 99% of the time she’s then thrilled to see us and go out with us. It’s a little game we play.

      But because Amber had that more formal relationship with Mom, she couldn’t just bust in like I do, and wanted to respect her request. So until I think up a creative (and maybe a bit devious!) way to get around this, I’m back to square one. But that said, it was great while it worked, and I’m happy to hear your situation seems to be working out well!

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