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ROB JENKINS: Families with elders should choose right caregiver

Families with Elders should choose the right caregiver

by Alise Hickman, with Rob Jenkins

I became interested in Elder Care when my grandmother died while I was still in college. Even though she suffered from dementia, Grandma and I were very close. We used to joke that she couldn’t remember the names of her seven children, but she always remembered mine.

As she approached the end of her life, Grandma had two unspoken rules: Elders don’t go to nursing homes unless there’s no other choice, and no one, but NO ONE, should die alone. As I watched the tender way the elder caregivers treated my grandma, I began to think that wouldn’t be a bad way to spend my life.

I’ve been in the profession now for many years, and I’ve learned a few things that I want to share with the families of elders. When the time comes, you will have options. Some organizations provide only medical care, while others offer more personal care, with medical care as necessary.

“Personal care” means things like housekeeping, shopping, transportation, and simple companionship. It might also include bathing, dressing, feeding, and so forth, to the extent those things are needed — which, toward the end, they usually are.

A lot of people think “personal care” is a form of babysitting. It isn’t. Good caregivers learn to “read” the elders under their care, to know what they need even if they aren’t able to express it.

Good caregivers are able to provide the needed care while still allowing elders to maintain their dignity. Just because they’re elderly, or suffer from dementia, doesn’t mean they’re not people. They need their dignity every bit as much as they need their diapers changed.

Good caregivers offer something else elders crave: respect. They understand elders are from another era. Sometimes, their stories seem unbelievable — and they love to tell stories, because for them it’s a way of re-living happy memories. Good caregivers listen, and hear, and remember.

They also take part in the conversation, asking questions and seeking the elder’s opinions. They understand there was a time when that seemingly frail person was tall and strong, when people looked up to him, when she was the one taking care of others. Age may dull memories, but it doesn’t dull those instincts. Elders still want to be important. To good caregivers, they are.

Finally, good caregivers are protectors. Many times, elders won’t argue with their adult children. If a son says mom doesn’t need pain meds, mom will agree. If a daughter says dad is perfectly fine to go to the mall, he’ll push himself for her. Good caregivers know their clients and stand up for them.

Far from being one of the worst things that can happen to your elderly loved one, having the right caregiver at the end of life can be one of the very best things. Because no one, but NO ONE, should spend their last days alone.

Alise Hickman is an Elder Care professional with more than a decade of experience. Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility.” E-mail Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.