Is It Time to Hire a Professional Caregiver?

More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. – National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009

If you’re one of these 65 million people, you know the challenges that can come with caring for a family member. What happens when those challenges become too great?

Julie Cherry, a professional care manager, recently discussed how professional caregivers may be the best solution for you and your family.

Are there any misconceptions about the role of a professional caregiver?

Yes, a professional caregiver is there to assist the client with their needs. They are also there to identify needs that are unknown to the family. They have a wide skill set. I think a common misconception is that their responsibility as a caregiver is to be a “sitter” or simply provide homemaker services and that is so untrue. They are very skilled in identifying and providing for the needs of older adults.

At what point should a family reach out for a professional caregiver?

There are few clear indicators in determining the need for caregiving.

  • Needing help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, toileting, and transfers
  • Frequent falls
  • Weight loss

The family should also consider some of the benefits of having a caregiver.

  • Caregivers can do household chores so the parent or loved one has more energy to spend time with family or on favorite hobbies and activities
  • A caregiver can pick them up and take them shopping when driving becomes more difficult
  • Having meals delivered so they don’t have to cook as much

How do you help a family or individual determine how much care they need?

It really depends. That is why it is good to inquire about what services are offered by an agency. You need to have someone visit your loved one’s home to complete an assessment of what the client’s needs are.

In my role as care manager, I assist the family and client in first identifying what they are having the most difficulty with. It may even be determined that a client could benefit from having a caregiver 8 hours a day, but the client is only open to having someone 4 hours a day at the beginning. It is not uncommon for the client to be resistant to having a stranger come into their home, so we work on them feeling comfortable with the caregiver and then expand hours as time goes on.

Talk a little more about what a Care Manager does.

My role as Care Manager is different for every client we serve. When a new client signs up with us, I go out and complete an assessment of needs. The assessment covers a wide range from past and current medical condition, to home safety, likes and dislikes, and an open discussion regarding what the clients expectations are from us.

Based on that assessment, I create a care plan for the caregiver so he or she has a good sense of what the client likes and how they want things done before they meet the client. I update the care plans as needed during the time when the client is receiving services.

I make periodic home visits to make sure the client is happy with their services. I also want to gather any feedback I can to make the experience with their caregiver the most comfortable it can be.

I also assist clients and families with answering questions regarding their long term care policy and assist with filing needed information with the insurance company. I provide emotional support to clients and families as changes are occurring in their lives. I also assist if a transition to a higher level of care is needed, or assist with connecting them to home health and hospice agencies.

If you see a client declining physically and/or cognitively, when do you step in to talk to the family?

From the very beginning – especially if the adult children aren’t wanting to face that their parent is declining. They want to see them as they’ve always seen them. So the earlier you build rapport with the family, the easier it is to talk to them about their parent when they do begin declining. I always want to have a Plan B in place before the crisis occurs because you don’t want to make decisions in the middle of it. It helps the family and their loved one prepare emotionally and mentally.

Are there challenges when a client’s children live elsewhere?

Yes. That’s where a big part of my job comes in because communication is crucial. I talk with adult children, by email or phone, constantly to let them know of even the slightest change. I let them know about good days as well. I also think that sometimes when children live away from their parents there’s a level of guilt about not being there. But through ongoing communication they are still involved. I try to be the eyes and ears for them.

What qualities should a family look for in a professional caregiver?

Patience and respect for the population they have chosen to serve. Great caregivers are hardworking and able to overcome challenges. They are kind hearted, willing to think outside the box, dependable, honest, and caring. They love what they do and do it for all the right reasons.

Julie Cherry, LMSW, serves as the Care Manager for Blakeford At Home.