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When parents or other loved ones can no longer be on their own, it requires a huge change in the life of the person who becomes responsible for their care.
Marie Harlow, founder and owner of Harlow’s Help at Home, says one of the best things to do is to reach out to others who are in the same situation. “Hospices, senior centers—actually talk to people there, drop by, spend half an hour,” Harlow says. “There’s a family caregiver support group in every county in California.”
Harlow herself was thrown into the situation when her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died within a year of the diagnosis. “I was grieving and my dad was declining, and showing overt, very obvious signs of dementia, as did my aunt,” Harlow says. “Within months, they were both diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s and I was responsible for them. At 40 [years old] I had inherited the entire responsibility.”
Having a family member try to do it all can be devastating, says Harlow, and she is echoed by Buck Shaw, owner of Home Instead Senior Care and Larry Dawes, social worker and geriatric care manager with Eskaton’s Live Well at Home program. “The thing you’ve got to be careful with families, is burning that person out,” Shaw says. “They can sometimes become sick before the person they’re caring for does.”
Also, having an external caregiver other than a family member allows that family member to maintain their role. “So the son stays the son, the husband or wife stays the husband or wife,” Dawes says, “and doesn’t have to be the caregiver, the doctor, the attorney and all of those roles.”
PRIVATE VS. AGENCY
The advantages of hiring a private caregiver as opposed to going through an agency mainly include lower hourly cost and the ability to do certain things agencies aren’t allowed to do by regulation.
On the other hand, private caregivers may not have a lot of perks agencies provide, including backup, a background check, workman’s compensation policy, bonding, auto and liability insurance. “What do you do when somebody is unable to shower or make meals or transport themselves, then suddenly the private caregiver, frankly, disappears, or is ill?” Harlow asks. An agency will provide backup and screened and trained caregivers and in addition, agencies also provide oversight. Harlow has three people in the field—an LVN, a gerontologist and a social worker, who drop in on a regular basis to see what’s really happening with their cases.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people if you start to look around and realize that in your own home things aren’t going the way they should go,” Harlow says. “Take that hour away and start looking for information or asking questions.”
Once you’ve sought advice and looked at some options, it’s a good idea to seek a consultation with an agency, which is generally free of charge. “That’s why we go out and do an assessment,” Harlow says, “so that we can work with each client or family to find what will be best for them.”
Adult Protective Services
El Dorado County: 530-642-4800
Sacramento County: 916-874-9377
Placer County: 916-787-8860
Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California
Senior Legal Hotline – Legal Services of Northern California
Finding a Caregiver
Help for Caregivers
Caregiver Resource Guide