Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on caring for senior citizens in their latter years. It will explore the challenges families face in helping their loved ones try to retain their quality of life as their health deadlines.
“In the back of their minds, a lot of people think they’re just going to die quietly in their sleep,” said Petra Burdine, a senior care expert. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
These days, families are increasingly busy. Children, careers and grandchildren often crowd out time with aging loved ones. Then one day, it’s obvious the older loved one needs help.
Seniors sometimes will try to conceal their decline, purposely or subconsciously, because they fear being burdensome, loss of independence or a trip to a nursing home.
Some people have the foresight to purchase long-term care insurance when they are a little younger and healthier. For those who don’t, as well as the middle class, options can be limited.
If you ask a senior what he or she wants most, the answer includes being treated with care and dignity, retaining their independence and the right to remain in their own home or chosen surroundings.
There are options. An in-home companion industry has sprung up in the past six to eight years which offers screened, trained companions, nurse and home health aides.
Considering letting anyone into a loved one’s home is a big decision anyway, said Burdine, independent owner of A Better Way of Care, a mid-city senior companion service.
“No one wants to have to call me and ask for help,” said Burdine, noting that families feel guilty if they must go outside the family to seek help. But demands on their lives simply leave some without other desirable options.
Companions are not home health agencies. They are non-medical caregivers who stay with the client to assure safety, medication reminders, cooking, cleaning and transportation to necessary destinations. Services range from a few hours to round-the-clock.
“Seniors want to stay at home. People function longer in their own surroundings, and they live longer, too. And when they die, they want to die at home.
“The moment you take them out of their routine and their surroundings they don’t know what’s happening, where they are anymore. And they usually give up sooner.”
There are many choices.
“We have a wonderful network of options,” said Burdine. “Adult day care, home health, assisted living facilities, senior companion services, retirement communities, nursing homes.
“But not everything is available to everyone,” due to family finances or limitations of entitlement programs.
Burdine said families should look for care that focuses on dignity, respect, caring, and activities tailored to their loved one. They should never feel married to one agency or one caregiver. A good match is essential for their loved one’s happiness. Shop price too, she adds.
“There is no cookie cutter recipe when taking care of seniors,” she said. “Each one is an individual and their needs are different.”
Burdine understands her clients and is firm about putting their needs first from the outset. She insists on an initial meeting in the client’s comfortable surroundings. She drops in frequently, to ensure things are going well and the senior is happy with the companion. Emergency calls go directly to her cell phone, round the clock, a highly unusual industry practice.
Understanding the client, how he/she functions in the environment and any special concerns all help her better match her caregivers to the elder. Her background, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in behavioral science is of great help.
Burdines is often asked if her approach is grounded in spirituality.
“It’s impossible to work with any seniors toward the end of their life and not believe in God,” she said. “It’s impossible. We have had a lot of very sweet clients. Each one of them is with me.”
Signs an aging loved one may need assistance
There are clear signs an aging loved one needs assistance, say senior care industry experts, including Petra Burdine, owner of A Better Way of Care, an independent mid-city senior care service.
Burdine said there are signs to look for in a senior who is becoming impaired:
• Sudden or steady weight loss, indicating their self-care is slipping.
• They are taken advantage of financially.
• Car accidents begin occuring to a senior who previously was a good driver.
• The quality of housekeeping goes down or disappears altogether.
• Forgetting to take important medications as prescribed.
• Forgetfulness begins to affect their lives in frightening ways.
• An absence of laundry, incidating the senior forgets he or she is wearing the same clothing day after day.
• Issues which were manageable becoming more pronounced and life-altering, such as hearing loss, diabetes and poor diet.