As the demand for in-home caregivers increases, so too does the number of seniors answering the call. According to a recent CBC news report, approximately 30 per cent of Canada’s working caregivers are aged 55 and over. I came up with a similar statistic for Vancouver and Victoria while researching this article.
“They’re winding down their careers and they have a little bit of time on their hands,” says HR Manager Marina Taylor of Home Instead in Vancouver. “They’re empty nesters, they have a car and they want to take a senior out for a drive.”
Home Instead provides a range of in-home services from companionship to dementia care. Taylor, like other managers, primarily employs seniors in companionship and home support roles. Since they often have hospital training, either as a nurse or a nurse’s aide, they are able to handle unexpected emergencies like administering CPR. And besides, seniors are conscientious and reliable.
“We have a very strong preference for people over 55,” says Murray Tough, co-owner of Serenity Home Care in Victoria. “They’ve been the most reliable, our most compassionate workers and the seniors relate to them very well.” Tough says 80 per cent of his work force are seniors.
Twyla Johnson, Director of Operations at We Care in Victoria agrees. “They [clients] want someone who can relate to them, not someone who is a total generation gap away. They want someone they can talk to, someone they feel a bond with and whom they can share some common experiences.”
Seventy-seven-year-old Betty Morrow is an RN with two years of palliative care training at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. She retired 14 years ago. She enjoyed it, at first, but eventually grew restive. Friends told her about in-home work; she thought she’d give it a try and she’s been working for Home Instead ever since.
“The people I see no longer drive,” says Betty. “I take them shopping, I take them to eye appointments, I take them to doctors, whatever is required.”
She agrees her age works in her favour. “We have more empathy. We can relate. I had a 103-year-old lady I used to take to church,” she says, suggesting her client would have been uncomfortable with a much younger person.
Female workers, like Betty, are the norm, but the industry is changing says Tammy Watson of Home Care West and there’s a growing demand for older males “especially if companionship is a contributing factor. Hockey games are big,” she says. So, too, are pub nights.
Betty works part-time. She has four clients she sees three hours a week in various locations throughout the city.
“Some of my best workers are people that have retired,” says Chris Clark, the General Manager of Bayshore Home Care in Vancouver. “They travel, they go to Mexico for four months and then they come back. It’s their snowbird money,” he says.
He does have a few reservations though.
“One of the concerns we have as an employer is risk mitigation,” says Clark. “It’s different if you’re 20 years old and you pull your back than if you’re 65 and pull your back. And so the return to work times are much longer. We focus very heavily on health and safety. It’s a real factor.”
More importantly, Clark stresses the need to be technologically savvy.
“Workers are getting hand-held devices and mobile text support. Everything’s on computers and Blackberrys and they need to check in with their assignments. We’re becoming much more technologically focussed as an industry, so they [older caregivers] have to be comfortable with technology and open to it. They have to be current and up to date.”
Having said that, the opportunities for seniors entering the home care field are expanding.
“For personal care, you would have to have certification, but for companionship, what we try to hire is compassion,” says Murray Tough of Serenity Home Care in Victoria. “If you can show us that you spent nine months looking after your grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, that’s a good indication for us.”
Concern for the client is paramount says Alyshia Vogt of Nurse Next Door Home Care Services in downtown Victoria. She tells the story of an older staff member and her bedridden charge.
“This client wanted to travel to Egypt, it was one of her dreams, but obviously that was going to be very difficult, so she [the caregiver] went to the library and got out books on Egypt. They watched movies together about Egypt. She basically brought Egypt to her home for her. It’s the kind of creative thing you find when people are doing it for the passion and not the money. That’s the key thing with hiring older care workers. They’re doing it because they love it and want to help people because they don’t necessarily have to be working anymore.”
“It’s almost like a calling,” adds Home Instead’s Marina Taylor. “You know you’re good with people, you’re patient, you’re compassionate, you’re understanding and you have a true desire to help seniors stay in their own home as long as they can.”
As an older caregiver who has answered the call, Betty Morrow sums up her experience: “You get to be good friends and you get to be good friends with the family too. I get a lot of positive feedback.”
SEPTEMBER 2014 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
This article has been viewed 1905 times.