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Aging elderly find a way to stay put

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

Leaving behind their homes and independence is heartbreaking for many elderly people who become unable to take care of themselves.

Often, families see the next logical step as moving their elders to a nursing home.

But there is another option.

In-home caregivers assist the elderly with activities such as cooking and baking, shopping, driving to doctor appointments, light housekeeping, mail assistance, grooming, dressing and other personal care.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of a caregiver’s job is becoming a friend of the client, said Susie Aumell, a caregiver who works at Comfort Keepers in Federal Way.

“I help people with issues of depression and isolation and loneliness,” said Aumell, 57.

Rita Martinsen, an 82-year-old client of Aumell’s, said a caregiver’s role of companion is important to her. Both of Martinsen’s grown daughters have demanding careers and families, and can’t be with Martinsen as often as she would like.

“I don’t get to see them very often,” she said. “They are busy.”

Before hiring Aumell as a part-time caregiver, Martinsen lived alone in a condo in Des Moines. She didn’t know many of her neighbors, who were away most of the day.

“It was kind of lonesome,” she said.

Martinsen recently moved to the independent living facilities at Foundation House in Federal Way. She continues to keep Aumell as a caregiver.

For nearly two years, Aumell has visited Martinsen weekly and helped her with errands and household tasks. She once stayed overnight when Martinsen had surgery. The pair have become close friends and they have often been mistaken for family.

“People think she’s my daughter,” Martinsen said.

Caregivers are a good option for clients who are capable of living at home, said Kim Sanchez, owner of Comfort Keepers in Federal Way. People can hire a caregiver for anywhere from three hours a week to 24 hours a day.

“It’s like assisted living in their own homes,” Sanchez said.

Most elderly people would rather live at home than in a nursing home, Sanchez said. Likewise, the demand for in-home caregivers is continuing to rise. Her business has grown at a rate of 15 to 20 percent each year.

There are several reasons for the increasing demand for caregivers. One reason is that medical technology keeps people alive longer. Also, more families nowadays frequently have two adults working, so that doesn’t leave any time to care for aging parents.

A lot of elderly people have children who live out of state, so they don’t have anyone nearby to care for them. And because society is so mobile, people don’t always know their neighbors as well as they used to, Sanchez said.

When looking for a caregiver, it is a good idea to hire someone from a reputable agency, said Wendi Lynaga, interim executive director of the Home Care Association of Washington State.

Agencies are bonded and insured, have done criminal background checks on employees and can match a client with the best caregiver.

“Definitely get references,” Lynaga added.

Physicians’ offices can also recommend caregivers.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com.

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