Aimee Gustitis

As a loved one ages, family members may work together to create a caregiving system. Perhaps someone handles the finances, while another performs grocery shopping and meal preparation. The tasks may vary, but the family is able to manage loved one’s day-to-day needs.

However, sometimes a situation exceeds what the family alone can provide, and the increased physical and mental demands create stress and anxiety. Although we cannot stop the aging process, we can put systems in place that allow both families and their loved ones to maintain safety and dignity. The Christmas holiday season, which draws families together, can be an opportunity to discuss the introduction of a professional caregiver system into the life of a loved one.

Professional caregivers provide non-medical services such as bathing, showering, toileting, incontinence care, light meal preparation and clean up, as well as companionship and conversation.

Shifting to a professional caregiving system can provide peace of mind for the entire family, while empowering a loved one to age comfortably and confidently at home. So how does a family begin this process?

As with all important decisions, it is crucial to first pray and ask God to guide our thoughts and actions. Allow yourself to experience the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit. Because these conversations can be emotional, look to Mary to provide consolation and to give you just the right words at just the right time. Surrender your fears to Jesus, and take comfort in the knowledge that your actions are based on a desire to keep your loved one safe and comfortable.

Next, invite your family members to discuss the goals and expectations of a professional caregiving system. It is important to include your loved one, so long as he or she has to capacity to understand the implications of this decision. Although these discussions may be difficult, not making any plans often leads to a crisis and a sudden loss of autonomy. Again, seek the Lord in prayer and trust that he will light the way and soften the hearts of those members resistant to change.

Research the two professional caregiver paths to consider, agency-based or a private individual. Agency-based care means that you will be working with a professional organization that specializes in non-medical home care.  Private individuals (who are also professionals) operate independently, and may also be connected with an agency. With either choice, it is important to do your homework and to seek counsel from trusted resources.

Next, meet with an agency representative or private caregiver in person, either in a professional setting or in the home. Having an in-home consultation allows your loved one to be evaluated in his or her actual living conditions. It is also very helpful to see what accommodations are needed to simplify and safeguard the situation. Families often interview several agencies and caregivers prior to making their selection.  As with any decision process, check references, trust your gut and allow common sense to be your guide.

When seeking professional caregivers, families are sometimes reluctant to “overschedule,” and begin the process by minimizing the amount of hours of care their loved one may actually need. Feelings of fear or loss of control may start to arise; you may second-guess your decision and wonder if bringing a “stranger” into the equation was a good idea. Take heart, because these are common concerns when new people enter a family’s life and personal space.

Your goal is to establish a framework of care upon which you can build. Create a regular schedule and stick to it.  Consider starting off with hiring a caregiver for a few hours on certain days of the week to help with tasks such as bathing and meal preparation. You can add hours and expand the tasks to include light housekeeping and social activities. The plan can be adjusted as needed.

I often invite families to consider a trial period when hiring a caregiver to allay the fear that they are making a “forever” commitment. Implement your caregiver plan for 30 days, and keep a journal of successes and challenges during this timeframe. You can then prayerfully look back and see if the plan needs adjustment once you have some experience with this new system.

When selecting your caregiver, remember that this person wants to do his or her best to maintain your loved one’s dignity and safety. It may take a bit of time before you find a caregiver whose professional experience and personality suits your loved one and your family. Communicate your expectations clearly so that you can find the right fit.

Lastly, keep your expectations realistic. Professional caregivers are not mind readers, nor are they perfect. The main objective is to find someone you trust and who treats your loved one with respect. The rest will fall into place over time. Like most families, yours will ultimately experience a sense of both gratitude and relief , knowing that you now have a team of people caring and advocating for your loved one.

As you continue to place your trust in the Lord, may this Advent and Christmas season be a time of sanctifying grace for both your loved ones and for you as caregivers.

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Aimee Gustitis is a registered nurse and caregiver consultant who for the past 10 years has worked in long-term care, home, hospice and hospital settings to help caregivers navigate both senior healthcare and school-based nursing care systems. She is also coordinator of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Nourish for Caregivers ministry, which is offered through the Archdiocese’s Office for the New Evangelization.