During the holiday season, you may find yourself making a long-postponed visit to see an aging parent or loved one. If it’s been a while since you last spent time together, you may be in for a surprise: the long months of isolation triggered by the COVID pandemic, combined with the passage of time, may reveal that your loved one needs more help than you realized. This week here on the AgingOptions blog, we’re looking at two related issues: first, what are some of the warning signs you need to watch out for – and, second, if you decide to call in a home care agency, how should you proceed?
Seven Signs Your Loved One May Need Assistance
For the first part of our report, we turned to this article from the website of Angelion Mobility, a firm based in New Jersey. “Sometimes we do not see our parents or aging loved ones as much as we would like,” says the article. “Especially after a pandemic, where life gets in the way and our responsibilities pull us in so many directions. We speak to Mom or Dad on the phone where they tell us everything is fine. But is it really fine?”
The Angelion article goes on to cite seven things you should look for when you visit your aging loved one this holiday season.
- Difficulties with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) such as bathing, changing clothes, housework, or even just getting around.
- Social Isolation: Does your loved one stay at home with little social activity, or spend less time with friends that they used to see on a regular basis?
- Forgetfulness: Did your loved one forget to do the things they had been used to doing daily, or have they been missing their doctor appointments lately?
- Loss of Appetite: Has your loved one been eating? If so, what have they been eating? If they can no longer cook for themselves and/or eat healthy foods, then it may be time to reach out to someone to help. Check their fridge to see how they are managing their nutrition needs.
- Weight Loss/Looking Frail: This is a sign that their bones may not be as strong as they used to be. If they fall the situation could escalate very quickly. For instance, have your loved one hold a cup of coffee or tea. Do they have the strength to hold it or is the cup shaking?
- Neglected Environment: An unorganized, cluttered, or messy home can be a sign that they cannot clean anymore, or it might be so cluttered that it can affect their own hygiene. Also look for: unopened bills and personal mail, a full voicemail box, an unmade bed, or expired food.
- Accessibility: Do they avoid the bedroom or bathroom on the second floor so they don’t have to use the stairs? Are they sleeping in their recliner chair to avoid using the bedroom?
It Might be Time for Some At-Home Help
For a growing number of seniors and their families, home care agencies are the answer. As this recent article from Kiplinger explains, “A home health aide who helps provide nonmedical care to a loved one can be a great way to provide some relief to a caregiver.”
Hiring a stranger to care for a loved one can—and should—require some patience and solid research, so Kiplinger provides us with the following five steps to get the ball rolling on this incredibly important decision. With the right tactics, relief from the stresses of caregiving can be just around the corner.
Step One: Don’t Wait
Thanks to the unpredictability of the job market and the hardships brought about by the COVID pandemic, quality home health aides can be fewer and a bit harder to find. If you suspect that your aging loved one may need home health care soon, don’t delay. Starting early with your search gives you a better chance of finding the right fit—especially if the first or second hire you make doesn’t work out—and a better chance of crafting a schedule that works for all parties.
Step Two: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions – Lots of Them!
The biggest hang-up for most people in hiring a home health aide is trusting a stranger with the care of their loved one. And that’s perfectly understandable: you want to know that this person is exactly who they say they are and will do the job they are hired to do, and you want to make sure that you have done the work to make your home safe for the aide, too.
Any aide hired through an agency will have a background check as part of their hiring process, but it’s encouraged that you ask about those checks. What do the background checks look for? You want to know that the agency is licensed, bonded, and insured, because caregiving can carry physical hazards to the aide from lifting, moving, and other demands. Also, will the aide have their own vehicle that they can use to drive your loved one around, or will they need to use your car? If it’s the latter, you will need to add them to your insurance.
Questions are good, and it’s always best to ask as many as possible up front.
Step Three: Help Your Loved One Understand the Need
Outside help for in-home care can be a tough sell for some aging adults. They may express that they don’t need an aide, and they may see it as a threat to their independence, whether real or perceived. It’s important to recognize their feelings, but also make sure they understand that this is going to happen for their own safety, whether they want it or not.
There are a few ways to “couch” the idea. You can express your own need, and that this is chiefly to help you as the caregiver. You could ask an authority figure—like a doctor—to sign off on the need for an aide so that it comes from them, not you. Or, if the term “aide” is distasteful to your loved one, you could say “housekeeper” instead. Use whatever approach makes them feel more comfortable while also going forward with the hire.
Step Four: Make Sure You Find the Right Fit
One way to ease the transition, especially if the loved one is reluctant, is to mitigate the discomfort by considering certain characteristics of the aide. Gender can be a big issue to some aging adults. So can shared interests and hobbies. Kiplinger references a client in their article whose loved one enjoyed a particular card game, so the caregiver found an aide who also knew the game and could play it. These little things can add up to a much more comfortable experience for your loved one.
Step Five: Observe the Initial Few Visits
It’s always a good idea to be on hand for the first few sessions with the new aide, not so you can peek over their shoulder at everything they do, but just to ensure they know all the little details needed to care for your loved one’s unique care. As soon as they are trained adequately, however, make sure you give the aide their space. Your loved one needs to start seeing the aide as the source of help, not constantly turn to you.
Finding an at-home caregiver can be a difficult task, but it shouldn’t be complicated. Armed with the right set of questions and requirements—and maybe a wish list, too—you can find the right person to support your loved one, give you some much-needed relief, and provide a priceless peace of mind. Just make sure you get the right advice from experts in the field.
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(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)