Ailing, independent seniors find solace with a little helpIn honor of National Assisted Living Week, a look at local outfit Home Instead Senior Care.
By: Beth Koralia, Budgeteer News
“I’m proud to be 80,” proclaims Manuela Forte, a passionately independent senior who used Home Instead Senior Care.
Forte, strong-willed and colorful, fled Communist Cuba in 1965. She bravely sent her children before her to America. She spoke no English.
“It was very scary coming to a place where you don’t know anything, and your son tells you you have to learn English to get anywhere,” she said. “I wanted to kill him.”
One of her first jobs was in a Catholic school for girls, where a Spanish nun gave her daily tasks. Later, she moved to New Jersey where she worked three jobs, one as a waitress, earning about $1.50 per hour.
She describes her experience in the United States as very different from her native land: “Women never worked outside of the home in Cuba,” she said.
Forte, unaided, has always overcome the challenges that life has tossed her way. Now, she must reconcile the fact that she must depend on others to perform the daily tasks she once completed effortlessly.
Only a few years ago, Forte became ill and was compelled to enter a hospital. In the facility, a social worker told her that she would require more assistance at home while she recovered and would most likely need long-term care. Struggling with the idea that she needed help, Forte finally overcame her misgivings and turned to Home Instead Senior Care.
The business provides non-medical, personal care and companionship services to seniors and other adults in need of extra support. The service aims to delay the need to move into a nursing facility as long as possible while, at the same time, ensuring that clients remain secure in their homes.
According to Mary Andrews of Home Instead, “[Seniors] put themselves in peril because they are scared. The unknown is very scary.”
“Seniors are so resolute about living on their own,” said Home Instead’s Holly Hackett-Rich. “[They often think] admitting they need help is considered a sign of weakness. But it’s not. It’s smart. It is being proactive and taking themselves out of harm’s way.”
It is difficult for many seniors to realize they are no longer as autonomous as they once were. It is even harder for them to ask for help.
“I used to be able to do it, but now it’s really hard,” Forte said. “I hate to ask for help; I don’t want to bother people.”
Home Instead performs tasks which seniors may have difficulty completing, such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, light housework and personal grooming. They also provide transportation services so seniors can easily run errands without endangering themselves or others by driving.
“As long as they can sit, stand and pivot, they can use our incidental transportation service,” Hackett-Rich said.
On the other side, family members have difficulties of their own. Caring for loved ones can strain relationships. Convincing seniors to accept outside help is difficult because emotions often interfere with communication.
Home Instead has launched a new website, www.caregiverstress.com, where families and seniors can learn to communicate effectively.
The service is also planning several workshops that will give families the tools and support they need to better care for their ailing loved ones.
At the workshops, people can “commiserate with each other,” mentions Hackett-Rich.
Andrews noted that family members often feel resentful: “When family must take care of a loved one,” she said, “there is no quality time for family if they have to do chores.”
Personal care assistance helps families to bond by removing the resentment.
Forte was more than pleased with the service: “I’m very independent,” she said. “I like to do stuff my way. I like having help when I need it. I was sick to have to [need] help.”
In addition to performing certain household tasks, Forte was grateful for the companionship component of the service.
“It’s like an angel came down to me,” she said. “They are like a family to me.”
Although she now needs more care than Home Instead providers can give, she still visits with the employees who aided her.
For many seniors, “just someone being there is huge,” Hackett-Rich said. “The companion piece becomes a major part.”
“What’s invaluable is what we can learn from our clients,” Andrews affirms. “Relationships like these do not happen on a typical 9-to-5 job.”
Employees endure a “thorough screening” before they’re hired, Andrews said.
“We conduct site visits, and we are always checking in and calling the client,” she continued.
“We have lots of phone lines, and we’re on them a lot,” Hackett-Rich said with a laugh.
Potential employees submit to two background checks and must be free of moving violations and produce six references.
“People don’t go into this to make money,” Hackett-Rich said. “They have to enjoy helping others.”
Employees are given extensive training. They are taught how to keep the home safe for seniors, identify risks and illnesses and adapt activities for different needs. Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are given further training.
After each visit, employees fill out worksheets and logs. They have safety checklists where they can write down any problems or hazards that they notice in the house.
They record what food they served or prepared and what activities they did.
The aging process is difficult for both family members and seniors. For more information on personal care assistance, contact Home Instead at 727-8810.