WASHINGTON — As the caregiver for her elderly parents and mother-in-law, Sue Neal’s life got a lot more complicated after the 2013 Washington tornado.
“My dad’s health completely deteriorated after the tornado hit — my parents' house was badly damaged,” she said.
Neal’s parents had stayed home from church that fateful Sunday morning because her father wasn’t feeling well. They barely got to the bathroom after he saw the tornado coming over the house.
“The windows blew out, the doors blew off. It’s a miracle they didn’t die,” said Neal.
In the aftermath of the storm, Neal found herself overwhelmed while trying to juggle her own life and the growing needs of her elderly family members.
“I was getting my parents into assisted living, a place they could be safe while their house was being fixed, and my mother-in-law was getting bad, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t do this.’”
Many caregivers struggle to maintain a work/life balance, according to a survey by Home Instead Inc. The toll is particularly heavy on women with full-time jobs. Nine out of 10 female caregivers were forced to use vacation time or switch from working full-time to part-time while caring for an aging relative, the poll found. Some even turned down promotions or reported that their career growth suffered due to being a caregiver.
Though Neal didn’t work, she had a full schedule with her children and grandchildren. A friend suggested Home Instead Senior Care in Morton to help with her mother-in-law. It was just the extra help Neal needed.
“Home Instead started doing errands and helping her with little things,” said Neal. At the time, her mother-in-law was living in her own home. Later, when she moved into assisted living, Home Instead continued to help out from time to time, and today it is providing daily assistance. Without the extra help, Neal’s mother-in-law likely would have to move into a full-service nursing home.
When an elderly person starts needing help, it’s difficult to know where to turn. Services range from companionship to housework and errands to skilled nursing care. The first thing family members should do is determine what type of services their person needs, said Oliver Kah, the manager of Care Navigation & Early Stage Engagement at the Alzheimer's Association in Peoria.
“Evaluate your loved one. You have to consider, what does this person need? You have to determine the priorities for care. Is this person only coming to help with housekeeping? This will be a less skilled kind of care. Or is this person coming in to do injections or therapy? That must be somebody who is trained. Nursing services require an RN.”
If the person needs skilled nursing care, caregivers will need to involve their doctor.
“It’s like a prescription: The doctor will say they need this type of service,” said Kah.
Not all agencies provide all levels of service — make sure to choose an agency that provides the particular services you need.
The Alzheimer’s Association has tips for choosing an in-home care provider at www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/care-options/choosing-care-providers. It suggests families ask acquaintances to recommend agencies, since many people have gone down that road. You can also reach out to your medical provider or your local aging organizations for recommendations. When it comes time to interview a prospective caregiver, have a third person there so you can discuss your impressions afterward. Ask for references and if the agency does criminal background checks. It’s also a good idea to talk with someone who has used that particular provider.
“You want to look for somebody who is reliable and dependable,” said Linc Hobson, owner of the Morton Home Instead. “Everybody has their own kind of niche, and our niche is we work really hard to make sure the client is looking forward to the caregiver coming. When we are talking to a potential client, we ask what sorts of things they are looking for, and how we can best satisfy them.”
Personality counts when it comes to caregivers, said Hobson. Home Instead tries to match up caregivers and clients so they enjoy each other’s company.
“I have caregivers who love to clean the house, and I have caregivers who love to play games with the clients, or love to cook,” he said. “We had a caregiver who came back and said, ‘This lady loves to knit, and I don’t know how to knit,’ but we have another caregiver who knows how to knit, so we sent her instead.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.