In-home helpers for dementia caregivers can be hard to find. Many readers have shared their bad experiences with aides who were not reliable or family members who won’t help. My mom’s been sick for eight years and in that time I’ve had to solve many similar problems. Here are some strategies that worked for me.
The Extra Pair of Hands — This is what I call that important person who can help with bathing, toileting and transfers into bed. The Extra Pair of Hands can come in many forms and last fall I was desperate for any one who fit the description. We had been getting support from a home health agency for nearly a year. At the beginning, the service (which is nationally known) was very helpful and I don’t know what I would have done without them. But over the course of a year, they lost many aides in our region. If our aide cancelled a shift, the agency had no one to fill in. As the service grew less reliable, so did my mother’s legs. Getting her ready for bed was becoming a strenuous, unsafe ordeal.
After dislocating my shoulder for the third time in 18 months, I felt I was near the end of my rope. It occurred to me that there must be a responsible high school student in the area who might want to earn a little money the way I did when I served as a teenage babysitter. But I wasn’t sure how I could find a responsible teen. The widespread use of drugs in just about every U.S. town makes you wonder how you can identify kids with good character. I finally decided to ask the local Girl Scout troop leaders to see if they could recommend a teen with a good school and behavior record. They had a candidate for me right away. The young lady they identified is also enrolled in a Vocational Education program to become a nursing assistant. To earn her certificate, she has to complete practicum hours at a nursing home. Although she only comes to my house once a week, on those nights her “Extra Pair of Hands” are worth a million bucks.
A Real Mom — Since my mother had the episode with the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), I’ve been worried about dressing her by myself in the morning. I have a recurring fear the she will make an unexpected move and take another fall. I asked the wonderful Girl Scout leaders to see if they knew a local mom who might want to earn a few dollars by helping me for an hour after dropping their kids off at the school bus stop. Again they were quickly able to identify someone who had cared for an elderly neighbor until she passed away. Now this mom stops here for a while to add safety to my mother’s morning lifts. She also brought a side benefit: when there’s no school she brings her kids along and that gives my mom an energy boost.
The Volunteer Hairdresser: Just because you have dementia doesn’t mean your hair should look crazy. We’ve probably all seen dementia patients who need grooming. But it’s very hard to take someone with dementia to a barber shop or salon. Through our new network of Girl Scouts and Moms we have been able to find a volunteer hairdresser who visited to cut my mother’s hair. She looked a thousand times better with a fresh haircut and you could tell it made her feel good to be told her hair was pretty. The hairdresser said she wanted to help us because she has several disabled people in her family. It means a lot when someone comprehends how hard it is to transport someone like Mom for services outside the home.
I’m sure we’ve been blessed with good luck in making some of these connections. But if you’re stressed out from caregiving without supports, I urge you to reach out to local youth development, faith-based organizations, or service groups in your community. Although some days it seems like building character is no longer part of our national tradition, I know from experience that there are good, helpful people around us. We just have to figure out how to find them.