Challenges in home care for elderly

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and elder care weekly in the Maple Ridge News

There is a range of options when it comes to home care for the elderly, each with its advantages and challenges. The reality is that, at some point, maintaining a household or even a small apartment can be difficult for someone with limited mobility or strength.  He or she may still wish to maintain independence but without help, personal living conditions can become a risk to his or her health.

The most common form of home care comes through both public and private organizations. Various options can be selected, from daily visits to help with cooking or medical needs to weekly visits primarily for cleaning purposes.

For the elderly, such visits are often a welcome break in the routine, and a caring and sociable worker becomes both a help with labour and a good friend.

Of course, the flip side of that coin is that home care workers can change within organizations rapidly, and for the elderly it can feel like a stranger is coming to their home regularly.  This leaves an uncertain feeling about the motives of the visitor and an unsettling sense of social detachment.

The visit is necessary, but can be dreaded as a stressful situation. This can be compounded even more if any of the workers demonstrates a poor attitude or seems aggressive or nosy around personal items.  It doesn’t take much to make the elderly feel threatened.

In an ideal world, a home care worker is hired who is known and trusted by others that the elderly person knows. Like any service, good references for the individual worker, as well as for the organization, are important to gather for some peace of mind.

It is also a good idea, prior to a home care worker coming into the home, to have a close friend or relative help improve the security of valuables, either by establishing a safe storage place or perhaps even installing a small safe of some kind.

If possible the first visit by a home care worker should be supervised by a relative or friend who can help the elderly negotiate the needs and routines that the home care worker should attend to. In this way, everyone understands and is comfortable with the expectations and there is a clear pattern established with which the elderly individual is comfortable.

As the service continues over time, it is important to consistently ask if everything is alright and if the elderly person is comfortable with the visitor.  There should be a red flag go up if there is any hesitation for such questions or if any mention is made of unusual questions, requests or routines that do not seem appropriate.

It is an unfortunate truth that some individuals take advantage of the elderly in a variety of ways, but the most common is through theft of small items or loose cash, or through coercing the elderly to help them out financially.

A good con artist with a sad story can easily make a case for support for which the elderly person actually takes pride in helping out and doesn’t see it as a problem.

Personally, I view precautions necessary for elderly home care to be no different than those that would be applied if child care was being sought.  The young and the old are, indeed, our most vulnerable members of society and it is a responsibility that we all share to look out for them and to ensure their trusting natures do not leave them vulnerable to abuse.

Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and elder care. Email him at

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