Seniors & Aging

Use care when choosing a caregiver for elderly parents

Caregiver Roberta Eubank watches as Elizabeth Freeberg, 98, draws with colored pencils Jan. 23, 2016, at Spring Creek in Bellingham.
Caregiver Roberta Eubank watches as Elizabeth Freeberg, 98, draws with colored pencils Jan. 23, 2016, at Spring Creek in Bellingham. For The Bellingham Herald

At 98, Elizabeth Freeberg is grateful to caregiver Roberta Eubank for introducing her to her new hobby.

Eubank, who cares for clients in their homes and in retirement facilities, gave Freeberg an intricate coloring book and pencils. Coloring has now become her favorite pastime.

The articulate former homemaker had given up more physically demanding hobbies like quilting, and Eubank recognized the need for something to cheer her. It’s only one of the many tasks that caregivers fill.

Loved ones need a second set of eyes to view the situation. Caregivers provide that.

Roberta Eubank, caregiver

“Roberta takes such good care of me,” Freeburg says in her tidy apartment at Spring Creek in Bellingham. “When I saw a coloring book in a catalog, Roberta said ‘I can do better,’ and found a beautiful one.”

“She’s addicted to coloring,” says Ken Freeberg, Elizabeth’s son. “It relaxes her and exercises a whole new dimension in her brain.”

Freeberg’s son lives in Alaska and daughter Margaret is in Florida, so having family members as caregivers wasn’t an option. But even if it were, it’s not always the best choice.

“Loved ones need a second set of eyes to view the situation,” says Eubank, who cared for her own mother until she died. “Caregivers provide that. They have the patience and background to do the job, something family members might not have.”

“When you find a good match between caregiver and client, it’s an amazing thing,” Eubank says. “It helps people keep their dignity and independence.”

Hiring the right caregiver can mean the difference between staying in one’s home or moving to a facility. Everyone’s needs are different, so here’s advice to keep in mind when selecting a caregiver:

▪ Determine the extent of care required. In-home caregivers can offer companion services, personal care, homemaker services or skilled nursing. Ask a doctor’s advice for direction.

▪ Caregivers may work for an agency or independently. Either way, check references and experience, and meet with them in the patient’s home.

▪ Create a list of duties. Perhaps a family member can bring dinner and the caregiver can help with bathing or housekeeping. How will tasks be divided?

▪ Decide if you need 24-hour care or just day visits. Sometimes, a few simple tasks by a caregiver can make the entire day run smoothly.

▪ Share all information. If the patient has challenges with, say, rage, incontinence or falling, be honest from the get-go.

▪ Observe the patient and caregiver together. Do their personalities mesh? Some patients like structure and some don’t. How flexible is the caregiver?

▪ Seek a caregiver who offers more than just physical assistance, but who respects the patient’s interests, memories and experiences.

▪ Don’t wait. Family members can become exhausted and even sick caring for relatives. Share the responsibility with siblings, caregivers and friends. Give your loved ones both the respect and the care they deserve.

More help

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services and the Area Agencies on Aging have a new website with information about long-term services and support. Go to washingtoncommunityconnections.org and search for “Long-Term Care Services and Information”

Or call the Northwest Regional Council at 360-738-2500 and ask for Aging & Disability Resources.

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