One of the services we provide here at DPO is to assist seniors with their mail, bills, and home management. Recently, I was visiting a senior couple who have a professional caregiver through an agency that comes in daily to assist the physically handicapped husband. As the wife and I finished reviewing the bills, she realized it was past her husband's lunch time. (In the world of seniors, meals and meds go hand in hand. Late meals can mean late dosages.) As I gathered up the papers, she went to help her husband from his chair to the kitchen table. As I watched, I couldn't help but wonder why the caregiver had not made him lunch and was not helping him to the table. She was engrossed in her book. As they worked their way to the table, the wife made a casual comment to her husband about taking off his "outside shoes" and putting his slippers back on after lunch. Upon hearing this, the caregiver slammed her book shut, started muttering under her breath, and stomped to the bedroom to get the shoes. She stomped back into the kitchen, pulled the husband away from the table, and announced she was taking a break after she changed his shoes. She walked outside, slamming the door as she left.
It happened so quickly and was so unexpected that the three of us looked at each other in stunned silence for a long moment. "How long has this behavior been going on?", I asked. They shrugged and said in the beginning it had been rare and usually focused on the wife when she asked for assistance. Of late, it had become much more frequent and directed toward both of them. I asked why they hadn't said anything. They replied they didn't want to get her in trouble. She was having issues in her family life. And worst, they didn't want to be thought of as "difficult to care for" or "unreasonable". They worried no one else would want to help them. This made me wince.
I asked for examples of the assistance being requested. The wife asked for assistance with changing the table cloth. The caregiver informed her it was not in her job description. Assistance with carrying groceries in from the car? Not in her job description. Heat up soup or make a sandwich for the husband if the wife was not back from her doctor's appointment by lunch time? Not in her job description. Drive the husband to appointments? You guessed it, not in her job description!
I was livid. These are precisely the things that caregivers help with. Any home care agency will tell you this. This caregiver's behavior was completely unacceptable. No one should have to endure this in their own home, let alone pay to be treated this way! I urged the couple to call the agency, explain what was going on, and request that this caregiver be replaced.
Please, if you have caregivers in your own home, for you loved ones in their homes, or are considering bringing in outside help, thoroughly interview and investigate the companies. Be clear on what services they provide, what services you need, and what type of person/personality you prefer. Good home care companies make it a point to match the personalities of caregivers and clients. Keep trying each other out until you find a good match. Mutual respect and clear communication are key. Good caregivers are worth their weight in gold. They are underappreciated and underpaid but they have a calling to help others and compassion beyond measure. It will take a little time to get to know each other and develop a rhythm, but you'll know quickly if it will get that far. Keep in mind that caregivers try to be helpful without being intrusive, especially when there are other family members in the home. It is up to you to help them find this balance. Politely let them know if you wish to have some alone time or need assistance with something. They may be over-solicitous and hover at first, but they are just trying to anticipate the needs and ascertain the capabilities of their client. Be honest with them and their superiors about performance and behavior.
In this instance, the manager was appalled to hear what was happening. She had had no idea because the clients had never spoken up. Needless to say, the caregiver will not be returning. The couple is now working with a wonderful caregiver who is conscientious of the needs and struggles of both of them. It's brought peace of mind and comfort to the couple. Do not settle for anything less.