Q: I care for my wife who has dementia, and this past year has been difficult doing it all alone at home. Now that we are vaccinated, what do I need to know about hiring help for my wife?

A: Caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be stressful and confusing in normal times. This last year, navigating caregiving along with the extra safety concerns of the pandemic, has made it even more complicated. Studies have shown that caregivers of people with dementia have had increased stress and anxiety since the pandemic started, and it is certainly understandable.
Routines were disrupted, which is especially confusing for people with memory loss. You may have had friends or family who you were not comfortable accepting help from because of risk of exposure to the virus. Many people opted not to hire professional help, as well, as a matter of safety. That meant you were the full-time caregiver, as well as the person managing all the household responsibilities, and that can be exhausting.
Now that you and your wife are vaccinated, you can try out new ways to provide care and social stimulation for your wife, while also providing you some much needed respite time. However, hiring in home help for the first time can be nerve racking. You want to start by interviewing a licensed home care agency.
Licensed home care agencies will bonded and will ensure their caregivers are background checked and trained. In California, the Home Care Services Bureau (HCSB) is responsible for licensing Home Care Organizations including processing applications, receiving and responding to complaints, and conducting unannounced visits to ensure compliance. You can learn more at https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/community-care/home-care-services
You will want to use the initial visit to interview the company and make sure their services fit your needs. Have them explain the health and safety precautions they take. Ask how they match the caregivers to the client. You can find out what training they provide and ensure that it includes training on dementia. Discuss costs up front and minimum hours required. Also make sure to find out what their back up procedure is if your caregiver happens to call out sick one day.
This meeting is also a time for the agency to get to know your wife’s needs. Be clear about what you hope to get from the caregiving time. Do you want the caregiver to socialize with your wife, provide time for walking or exercising, take her to activities or to the park, prepare meals or do light housekeeping? If you know that there is something you do not want the caregiver to do make sure to explain that as well. Perhaps you know you do not want them to watch TV with your loved one because they do that during the hours when you are home.
You may also want to consider an Adult Day Care facility as a care option for your wife. Adult Day Care facilities are licensed to provide care during daytime hours. They provide a safe place where your wife can enjoy social stimulation and group activities while also receiving care and supervision. Some are licensed as Adult Day Health Care programs which have the added benefit of health care services including physical and occupational therapy.
It takes a lot to reach out and be able to accept help. There is a quote from within a poem by Cory Booker that says, “Sometimes asking for help is the most meaningful example of self-reliance.” You are the full-time caregiver, and you need to make sure you have enough rest and that you care for yourself, so that you can continue your important role. I commend you for being ready to reach out and accept outside support.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org

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