If you are like me, you may feel perfectly fine about having extra help to care for your parent while you are at work, but guilty about having someone help just so you can take some time off.
I deal with the emotions by reminding myself that it’s better to live with the guilt than stay home and seethe with resentment. There are times when I need a break. Dad hasn’t said anything about it, but I bet there are times when he needs a break from me, too.
Calling on other family members or my friends feels as though I’m starting a community service project, besides I’m cautious about overworking their goodwill so I save these resources for emergencies.
Here’s my list of other resources for when you need some time off:
I started out thinking about activities I know my Dad enjoys and then looked for places where I might locate kids with comparable interests.
For example, Dad was an engineer so maybe a boy with similar interests could enjoy spending time with him. I called the high school physics teacher and explained what I wanted. Miraculously he came up with Alan, the boy wonder who also drives.
Right before Alan arrives; I make a picnic and throw in a disposable camera. Alan picks up Dad and the two boys tour the city reviewing various construction sites. Dad has made several scrapbooks recording the history of DC as luxury condos replace the neighborhood shops.
My friend Jane’s mom was an artist. Now she’s too frail to paint, but she enjoys being part of studio life. So Jane fixed her up with Sally the art student. Sally needs a portfolio to apply to art school so she is painting Jane’s mom while Jane’s mom is painting her. Sally also takes her mom over to Recorded Books for the Blind where she reads textbooks and novels that are being taped. Another friend discovered that the music school looks for audiences as students rehearse for auditions. Part of the art of auditioning is learning to carry on when no one is paying attention, so this works quite well.
The humane society is always looking for volunteers to walk dogs and help out at feeding time. Patting kittens can be tricky for slow moving seniors or those who have trouble controlling their hands but there is always a need for help with laundry, washing and filling up dinner bowls. I went with Dad a few times to make sure this would work. Now he’s comfortable with the staff and they trust him but we limit his visits to weekday mornings when they are not busy. Some of those volunteers will take Dad out for a walk along with his Golden Retriever. Call and check—it never hurts to ask.
College or High-School Students
Night time companions are a bit harder to find. Working under the premise that a teenager was good enough for my children when they were little, I’ve cultivated a small group of students I feel comfortable leaving Dad with.
High school students are a good option since they live with their families and may be known to you or someone you know. Make sure they are comfortable working with seniors!
Usually there are a few college students who are desperate for a free meal and laundry facilities not to mention a little cash. The local community college has a work placement office and I put an ad in the university newspaper. I’m quite fussy about whom I will hire and have rules: no guests, no booze, no cigarettes, and no dope. One girl teased about bringing me an “Employees must wash their hands” sign for the powder room.
You can always check with friends, coworkers, and neighbors to see if they can recommend any trustworthy college students who could use a bit of extra cash. Some college students major in elderly social work or geriatric care—you could find yourself a student who will care for Dad for free in return for some student credit.
Poor Dad, he agreed to be the subject when a psychology student needed to do some practice evaluations. She was very discrete through and wouldn’t discuss his Rorschach ink blot test with me.
Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Religious Organizations
Another idea is to check with your local Girl or Boy Scout organization for scouts that want to work with the elderly. Many Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts will gladly give up a Saturday to take a walk with your Dad, or help Mom bake some cookies and just give her company. Also be sure to check with local religious organizations for volunteers that will come to your home and offer companionship, play games with Mom or Dad, or take him or her on field trips.
Most home health services can provide a bonded person to come to your home and care for your loved one. These services work like a nurse registry and have a list of full and part-timers who will come to your home to provide companion services or just stop in to chat and make sure things are going well. Most home health services have a minimum hourly visit. These providers are ideal if you want to go away for a weekend. Their employees are trained to work with seniors and they have professional back-up personnel in an emergency.
Making it Work
Your own sense of responsibility may be the greatest barrier to finding an eldercare sitter. Your evaluation of your loved one’s frailty may not be accurate since you are comparing their current status to the time when they were stronger. Be sure to check with your loved one’s physician to determine if time spent with an eldercare sitter is right for your loved one—and, if it is appropriate—go out and get some time away (and give your loved one a break while you’re at it!)