When you think of home care, you may automatically think of illness. You are imagining someone in scrubs, spoon feeding a frail grandmother with a blanket on her lap. Yes, many people that are severely ill need around-the-clock, personal care but that is not the only time home care is necessary. Home care is also for people at the early stages of an illness or even for someone with no severe ailments but is simply aging and losing interest in household tasks.
Simple day-to-day tasks, like grocery shopping, doing laundry, changing the sheets, and making meals aren’t so simple when you can’t drive anymore, have arthritis, chronic back pain or fatigue. Having someone to help with things around the house can actually help with independence rather than taking it away. If someone has trouble doing laundry but is still great at cooking, they can focus on cooking while someone else does the laundry. Having someone in the house while you shower can prevent accidents and injuries that could lead to hospitalization and later even more loss of independence. Having someone there to make sure you took your pills properly guarantees better health and therefore avoiding any preventable decline.
Let’s say mom loves to get her hair done every Friday but can’t drive anymore. There can be someone there to make sure her clothes are clean by doing laundry, help pick out a great outfit and prepare a nice meal for when she gets back, and provide transportation. Why have mom miss her appointments she’s being going to for 50 years because she can’t do her laundry? What if dad passed away and you are noticing mom hasn’t been herself. She claims she’s okay when you call, but you know she’s not. A caregiver can provided companionship, they can participate in whatever activity she desires, go on walks, or bake old recipes. Mom may not be sick, but without a companion she will likely get depressed dealing with the grief of losing dad. A caregiver won’t replace dad but it will give her something to look forward to, to plan for.
Not everyone will be receptive to having help, especially if they aren’t sick. It may take some convincing but what’s important to remember is that bringing in a caregiver is not to take anyone’s independence away, but rather to keep it from disappearing all together. If one day, illness does progress or set in, then you already have someone you trust by your side. A caregiver is there to be what you need them to be, physically and emotionally.
It’s a question you may ask anyone in a business with lots of competition, “what makes you different?” For us, there are a handful of ways we are different. We are a family business, an all-female owned business, and the only Jewish agency in the area. The other piece of the puzzle that makes us different, is that we take our time when it comes to choosing caregivers. We try our best to identify the traits that make someone a good caregiver and finding people that genuinely care about others versus just looking for a paycheck. Before we go any further, we need to back up a little and explain why we think our differences work to our advantage.
Our culture, like many, stresses the importance of taking care of your family. Through many of our own experiences, we learned that sometimes it’s just too much to do it yourself and you should have other options. Running a home care agency, and being responsible for filling in the shoes of other people’s family members is something that comes naturally for us. We know what to look for in a caregiver because we know that if you are not taking care of your parents, spouse, or grandparents yourself, you are only going to feel relaxed if someone is treating them like family.
We are empathetic. You may think, of course you said that, but it’s true. Maybe it’s because we have a female, mothering energy or maybe it’s because of how we were raised but we genuinely feel hurt when other people are bullied, taken advantage of, and suffer. There are people in this world that prey off the sick and naïve, and there are people that try their hardest to help. They say not to get too attached to the people you care for, but we have spent many sleepless nights worrying about an elderly person that got yelled at, neglected, or taken advantage of. We’ve taken care of people ourselves and have experienced the painful look on someone’s face as you leave, because no one else will visit until you come back. We have taken care of people with dementia and watched them slowly suffer, our hearts breaking when others treat them like they aren’t a person anymore. You have to care to provide good care.
As far as being a Jewish family, the advantage may not be what you think it is. Of course, when it comes to Jewish families, we are knowledgeable in practices and customs that may play a big role in the type of care they deserve. Along with being able to give first hand advice and information to our caregivers on how to provide the best possible care. The part that isn’t so obvious, is that we don’t see being a Jewish family as an advantage solely for other Jewish families. Being minorities, Jewish female immigrants, we know how to treat other minorities. We know how it feels when people don’t respect your beliefs or mock you for having an accent. We know what it’s like to have your choice of food be called strange or for your holidays to be ignored because they are not main stream. We’ve been made fun of, looked down upon, and treated differently. The best thing you can do in these situations, is learn from them. We are accepting of people from all walks of life and refuse to allow someone to think they have to hide who they are to receive equal care.
What makes you different can be big or small, but it has to be something you can stand behind. We not only stand behind what made us who we are, we are proud of it and celebrate it.
From the time we’re children through adulthood, our parents urge us to listen to them. They are older, wiser, and full of information. Yet, somehow once they are elderly we stop listening. We tend to believe we know what is right for them or what decisions need made. You may not even know you are doing it, blocking out what your parent is saying because you have too much on your mind. Too many times, our elderly end up depressed because decisions were made about their life for them. It is time to stop and listen to what your aging parents are saying.
Even if a plan had been agreed on in the past for your parent’s post-retirement years, you should still address their comfort and happiness in their living and social situations periodically. If a parent planned on relocating to a facility in the past, they may have changed their mind and want to stay home. Talk through all of the options thoroughly before making decisions, consider every last detail. Would mom or dad do better at home with a caregiver or at a facility in assisted living? What are their needs, how social are they? Do not make any of these decision solely based on finances because even though that can be a big factor, it does not guarantee that decision provides day to day happiness.
If you parent is asking for help listen closely to what they are saying. Do they need physical help, or emotional? What degree of help are they looking for? Read between the lines if need be. If they are not asking for help and you are worried for their safety, look for warning signs such as bruises from a fall, expired food in the refrigerator, or mismanagement of medications. Spark a non-judgmental conversation with no yelling or condescending behavior. Your parents may be getting older but they are still your parents. It may be time for them to have home care, move to a facility or even move in with you, but never stop listening.
At any age we crave understanding and comfort from others, so do not let your elderly loved one go unheard.
What makes us unique as individuals is our backgrounds, traditions, cultures, and customs. Our aging population makes up a large portion of first and second generation immigrants that hold stories of their ancestors and cultural traditions close to their hearts. Our life experiences are what shapes us and they should not be ignored as we age but rather maintained and cherished. Some elderly are lucky enough to be physically and mentally able to sustain independence as they age. For many, illness takes control of day to day life and the ability to sustain customs and traditions that shaped who they are becomes difficult.
For those that develop a need for assistance, unfortunately a loss of individuality may follow. The physical and/or mental ailment many times becomes the person’s new identity. They become the grandmother with Alzheimer’s, the family friend with cancer, or the client with a bad hip. It is important for the caregiver, whether it be family, friend, private, home care, hospice, or facility to remember that every person has a story to tell and deserves to express themselves through their entire life. They shouldn’t have to stop practicing customs because of inability to drive, cook, or perform activities of daily living. More importantly, no person should be categorized by their ailment or case number but have their individuality acknowledged and heard.
In a world where everything is fast paced and technology driven, let’s not forget to slow down and hear what our elders have to say. Stories of what life was like before reality TV, cell phones, and computers. When you talked to people face to face, took your time to make sure things were done right, and asked questions and read books to learn new information.
Music has been proven to comfort and bring back memories, take the time to find music that person resonates with. Write down recipes, ask questions about special diets. If someone has a special diet whether it be religious, health, or personal choice restrictions, learn as much as you can in order to respect their diet. Ask questions about holiday traditions and help them celebrate in a way that comforts them. You may be the only person they have to help them rekindle old family traditions that date back for centuries.
Cultural or religious differences should not hinder the learning process but rather ignite it. It is our duty to not categorize our elders by their age or ailments but to preserve their stories, customs and traditions to help shape our futures.