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Finding Senior Care With a Heart

Isabella Yosuico
May 4, 2018

How to find the perfect care situation for your senior.

16 hours. That's how long Carolyn Childerston's mom Doris spent on the floor of her small-town Nebraska home after taking a fall last September. Carolyn, who lives in Maryland, had been calling all day to wish her mom a happy 88th birthday, but didn't worry right away.

"My mom's always been very active, so I just thought she was out with friends," Carolyn recalls.

It wasn't until a neighbor walking her dog heard Doris' cry for help that an ambulance was called.

"I was so upset when I heard," Childerston remembers, her voice tensing at the memory. "I'm an only child and my dad passed away almost ten years ago, and I was literally thousands of miles away."

After being discharged from the hospital, Doris was admitted to a nearby rehab. When Childerston called to check on her, she was initially encouraged by how the staff sounded, especially after her mom told her the facility looked nice. But Carolyn started to wonder when she got increasingly vague answers about her mom's condition, which was deteriorating. Concerned, Childerston flew her mom to Maryland. She soon learned that her mom was not only overmedicated, she also had MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a contagious and difficult to treat infection.

"The nursing home didn't tell me anything," Childerston recalls, still troubled.

As Childerston learned more, it became clear that aside from serious medical oversights, there were other things that suggested the facility lacked what may be the most important quality to look for in a caregiver: caring.

Knowing her mom would need more help than she could provide, Childerston set out to find a quality, compassionate environment-a place that genuinely cared about her mom.

When the time comes that your loved one needs help, it may feel like nobody can cherish your parent as you do. Virginia Morris, author of "How to Care for Aging Parents" and Care.com's Mary Stehle, LICSW and Senior Care Advisor offer these simple guidelines to find "Senior Care with a Heart."

General Considerations

Here are the checkpoints for both facilities and in-home caregivers:

  • Get personal insight.  As with many things, getting a trusted recommendation is helpful. Start asking neighbors and friends, posting on message boards and reading online reviews (try Medicare.gov for nursing homes and Care.com for reviews on homecare and senior facilities). Personal feedback can help you make the right choice.
  • Listen for money talk. Too much emphasis on money may indicate that someone's heart is in the wrong place. However, Stehle cautions, "be sure you understand all the costs involved in your parent's care." You'll want to know your budget and how care will be paid for. "This is a crucial first step," says Stehle who explains that many people are shocked to learn that Medicare doesn't cover non-medical home care and long term care."
  • Feel the love. When interacting with caregivers,notice how they touch the senior. Are they gentle when helping a resident stand up or slip on a sweater? Do they pat them gently when speaking to them? Touch conveys affection.  Ultimately, many of the traits to look for are about respecting who your parent is and was. It's also helpful to note if caregivers are treating each other -- and you -- with consideration.
  • Look for your involvement. Remember you are a crucial part of the care team. Your involvement will always be vital. The person or facility you hired to help your loved one will be a crucial part of your life. How can you partner with them? Do they use Skype, emails, phone calls? Are drop-bys welcome?

Housing Assessments

Here are some specifics to consider when touring facilities:

  • Be an investigative reporter. Drop into the facility (sometimes unexpectedly) at various times to determine if the quality of care is the same around the clock. Does the staff seem attentive and engaged with residents? Do the residents appear comfortable or do they look unkempt? Also, use this time to talk to other families about their experiences.
  • Don't be fooled by good looks. While you want your parents to be in pleasant surroundings, they -- and you -- will likely be happiest with kind, attentive, quality care. Don't ignore appearances, but focus on the people caring for your loved one.
  • Look for signs of respect. Honoring people as individuals shows caring. Do employees call residents by name? Know residents' likes, dislikes and habits? Are they flexible about residents' preferred time to eat, sleep, get dressed? Do they show interest in residents' personal history -- enjoying them as people, not just as patients? Talk about who Mom once was - and note their reaction. "Perhaps she is agitated and cranky now; let them know that she has another side, buried under the disease," Morris says.
  • Tune in to details. Small things often convey how much heart a facility has for clients. For instance, are birthdays or anniversaries celebrated? Are there thoughtful extras offered free of charge?
  • Value freedom. A nursing home isn't a prison. Residents should have as much independence as appropriate, while being properly protected. Is transportation available? Can people snack when they want, visit each other freely, wake up early, make everyday decisions about their care?

In-Home Caregiver Assessments

Here are some things to look for in-home help:

  • Look for eye-contact. Caregivers should make eye contact when speaking to you or your parent. Be wary if a person repeatedly directs personal questions to you while ignoring your loved one if they are able to communicate.
  • Listen for a calling. Look for someone who seems to genuinely enjoy the elderly or who even speaks authentically of having a calling for working with seniors.
  • Be alert to professionalism. While an in-home caregiver may soon seem like family, their attitude should be strictly professional. For instance, asking about watching TV, bringing children to work, or other special treatment may be a red flag.
  • Check references. Sounds obvious, but many people overlook this critical step. Ask for more references than the candidate offers, including any previous employer, teacher or college professor, neighbor. See if they have a Linked In or Facebook profile to find mutual connections you can explore.

In the end, your own heart will tell you if this caregiver or facility really does care. Trust your gut. Nobody can replace you, but with a little time and thought, you can find senior care with a heart.

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