Hiring a caregiver

Published 5:28 pm Friday, September 16, 2016

Statistically, caregiving for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, or some form of dementia, falls on family members. Usually the caregiver is a husband, wife or one of the children. It is wonderful when multiple family members lovingly share in the care of a relative. However, when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I suddenly became a sole caregiver.

As sole caregiver, I had no family members to help me — total responsibility fell on me. Keeping my mother in her home during the later stages of Alzheimer’s meant 168 hours a week. The concept didn’t hit me until I started paying someone during the hours I worked and for an occasional weekend.

During Mother’s 18-year illness, I hired many caregivers. Therefore, I learned three major characteristics in hiring a good caregiver: patience, efficiency and caring.

Patience is required from a caregiver dealing with dementia. For example, Mother repeated the same request frequently. “Miss Laura,” a kind woman whom I paid to “visit” Mother during the early stages, took time to respond kindly to Mother’s repetition. Patience is also required to feed someone with dementia. By the time “Miss Laura” or I had fed Mother one meal, it was almost time for the next — Mother often forgot that she had just eaten and was ready to eat again!

A second characteristic in hiring a caregiver is the person’s efficiency. A potential caregiver taking notes while I gave instructions about medications was definitely a plus. A caregiver does not have to be a nurse, but paying attention to the needs of a “patient” is essential. For example, Brooke, a nursing student at the time, was always punctual (which helped me) and paid meticulous attention to getting medicines into Mother when she didn’t want them — crushing and burying meds into ice cream was a clever and efficient method!

The third and most important characteristic of a caregiver is caring. Mother had many “caring” caregivers. Mary Ellen and Misty treated Mother as their adopted grandmother and entertained her with their horses, ducks and dogs. Mother didn’t want to take time to talk to me when she was at their home. I was jealous, but happy for her. Another caring person was Liz, who came from an agency. On the first encounter, I knew she was a caring person who would respect my mother. As Mother and I greeted Liz at the back door, instead of approaching me, she immediately smiled at my mother and said, “Hi, Miss Emily, I’m Liz. How are you?” Her eyes were on Mother, not on me. Liz stayed with us eight years, loved Mother and was loved as family.

Finding a good caregiver and becoming a good caregiver is difficult because the job requires patience, efficiency and love — whether from you or a person you hire. I was fortunate that wonderful caregivers having all three characteristics existed in our area. These caregivers made my life and my mother’s life better while we dealt with this devastating disease.

Emily Albera is co-chair of the Washington Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair on Oct. 8, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Red Men’s Lodge. For more information, contact her at 252-944-3446 or albera@gotricounty.com.