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Home to Stay

‘Aging in place’ is the goal of nine out of 10 boomers, requiring high tech, smart building … and the perfect in-home caregiver.

Jimmy Magahern | Feb 3, 2014, 1:31 p.m.

The answer, Sumner says, lies in that oldest of commodities: people. Specially trained caregivers who can interpret all that diagnostic data flying through the cloud but also fly to your side with the proper assistance when needed.

Choosing a Caregiver

Choosing the perfect in-home caregiver, though, can be trickier than picking the best smartwatch to monitor your biometrics, balance and bathroom visits. And Sumner says most of us wait until it’s too late to intelligently choose the partner that will, in all likelihood, serve as the last faithful companion for our loved ones or ourselves.

“One of the problems in the industry is that very often when families go to look for care, they’re actually at a point in crisis,” he says. “So it becomes very complex and bewildering. And when you buy in-home care you’re never quite sure if you’re buying it from a reputable agency, which employs the caregiver and pays their occupational safety insurance, or from a registry, which is more like a dating service: they find you a caregiver who’s a good fit, and then you employ the caregiver.”

The difference may seem subtle, adds Sumner, who recommends first checking to see if the company is a member of a state or national association representing home care providers, such as the AZNHA or the Home Care Association of America. “But it quickly becomes not so subtle if something goes wrong.”

Relationship first

“One of the biggest mistakes people make when they seek out a caregiver is that they start out thinking it’s all about the task,” says Erin Albers, marketing director for Home Instead Senior Care, the world’s largest provider of nonmedical in-home care services for seniors, with more than 1,000 franchises in 17 countries (including offices in Phoenix and Tucson). “They think they’re looking for a cook or a maid to do some cleaning. But it’s really about relationship before task. If the caregiver they hire can’t come in and have a relationship with that client, none of those tasks are going to get taken care of.”

For that reason, Albers says, Home Instead spends a lot of time matching the right caregiver with the client, and will sometimes try out several people before that perfect match is achieved—one of the advantages of utilizing a company with a big work pool.

“If that means going through five different people to find the right one for that client, that’s what we’ll do,” she says.

Most agencies echo Albers’ emphasis on striking the right relationship first. “I go out and do an initial assessment, to see what kind of care the client is going to need,” says Stacey Goulet, who runs the Tucson office of Senior Helpers, another national franchise, and manages about 45 caregivers. “I find out what their interests are, and what their personality is like. And then I match them with the caregiver who has the skill set and the personality that’s right for them.”

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Stacey Goulet (far right)—with Ginny Caballero, Nancy Hogan and Maryanne Brookman—manages about 45 caregivers through the Tucson office of Senior Helpers.

In-home caregivers are most often not medically trained but provide assistance with, as Albers puts it, “activities of daily living”—things like personal care, meal preparation, light housekeeping, shopping, errands and some transportation. Many caregivers are also equipped to handle the specialized needs of clients with Alzheimer’s. “The two most important qualifications a caregiver needs to have,” says Goulet, “are compassion and patience.”

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