Eldercare at Home: Communication is Key!

affordable home care assisted home care at home caregivers care for older people companion home care disability home care elder care in Minnesota eldercare at home elderly home assistance elderly home care service help for senior caregiversI would say that 90% of the seniors we serve need assistance with weekly housekeeping, laundry, and other chores around their homes or apartments.  Most often my clients tell me they can no longer push the vacuum, change the bed linens, or reach down to wipe out the lower shelf in their refrigerators.  Providing non-medical home care services for seniors may sound simple, but we find it necessary to thoroughly discuss what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done.

For instance, do you like your polyester clothing hung up directly from the washer, half dried and then hung up, or dried thoroughly in the dryer?  Do you dust before you vacuum or after?  When you dust, do you just go around the knickknacks or remove them all, dust the surface and put them all back?   Do you need your knickknacks dusted every week?  Or is once per month sufficient?  Can you tolerate cleaning products such as Pine Sol or Mr. Clean, or do you need to use non-toxic cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda?  Do you need your bedding changed weekly or bi weekly?  Do you prefer to do some of your homemaking tasks yourself?  If so, which ones?  Are there any valuable collections that you prefer not to be touched at all by anyone other than yourself?   Are there rooms you do not want anyone to enter?

These are some of the things that arise when discussing with seniors how they want their homemaking services structured.  I must admit that many times seniors assume that their at-home caregivers know exactly what to do.  I often tell them that there are many different ways that people perform certain homemaking tasks, and we can’t assume the caregivers will necessarily do it how the client wants it done.   Clients also have different ways of doing things and preferences that are sometimes very interesting.  This is why we need to ask.  Clients are encouraged to speak up about what they like and don’t like, or what their pet peeves are.

Recently, one of our clients needed caregivers to come over twice daily to prepare meals.  The client asked for eggs, coffee, and toast for his evening meal.  The caregiver went ahead and made eggs over easy.  The client said nothing and ate the eggs.  Then he called the office to complain about the caregiver because she didn’t make the eggs hard like he preferred them.  I asked, “Did you tell her that you wanted the eggs cooked hard?”   He hadn’t thought of that!  (Also, the caregiver could have and probably should have asked).  I explained to him that caregivers are not mind readers.  They need to be told what you prefer.  “Ahhhh, well, they should know,” I often hear.

affordable home care home care services for seniors home help for the elderly in home help for seniors in home senior care providers non medical senior care private pay home care senior citizen care taking care of elderly parents senior home assistanceOur caregivers come from a variety of backgrounds and all have their strengths as well as their weaknesses.  For example, there are excellent cooks, strong organizers, and people who love to clean!  There are some that can shop for you and stretch your dollars unbelievably far.  Others are wonderful listeners and just what you need when you can’t talk to your kids or anyone else about what is really going on with you.  If you need your clothes ironed, well, it may take us some effort to find a caregiver who actually knows how to use an iron these days!

Some clients are not comfortable giving direction—women from the generation before ours were not as often in positions of authority as we boomers have been and are not used to speaking up or acting assertively.  Sometimes they say yes when they mean no.  Sometimes I help them practice being assertive, or maybe together we make a list with all of the tasks they expect to be done weekly, biweekly, or as needed.  This makes it easier for them.  With a client who is not comfortable speaking up, we can also make sure the caregiver asks what needs to be done and when.  Family members can also communicate for people who are not able to do so themselves.

When starting assisted home care services with new clients, we try our best to match clients with at-home caregivers who will fit with their personalities, who live fairly close-by, who are available the hours the help is needed, and who can perform the tasks that are most important to our senior clients.  Most of the time, the matches we make work well, but not because we have a crystal ball or are mind readers.  We put in the time upfront to get to know our clients so that we can make the best match possible.  By knowing ahead of time what to expect, our caregivers are not set up for failure and our clients get what they expect and need.

Julie Ellingson, LSW

December 24, 2013

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