In David’s words…
We got a call out the blue saying: ‘Your cousin has died.’ She had been looking after her 85-year-old mother who had suffered strokes and developed vascular dementia. We said: ‘What do we do now?’
My Aunt needed 24-hour care. We talked with her and she wanted to stay in her own home. We saw it as a family duty to respect her wishes and give her the best life possible. Fortunately, enough funds were available, although we had to work out her finances from scratch – it was a bit like being a detective, searching through her house looking for clues.
Finding care providers
Round-the-clock care paid by the hour is phenomenally expensive. But we did that for a short time because we had no other option while we looked for live-in carers, and the firm was brilliant – a charity.
It’s very difficult to get Trip Advisor or Amazon-type reviews of care providers. Social services just send a list and are so stretched they can barely answer the telephone. There is a total absence of good online information and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports don’t tell you very much.
We checked out care companies to get a sense of how they balanced caring and making money. In the end we found a good firm, with national reach. So they were big enough to afford to employ trainers and people dedicated to sourcing and vetting carers – the last being especially important.
Living with live-in care
The company placed carers for eight weeks and then they had a week or two off. We found that was a bit too long – six weeks is about the limit. Where possible, we requested the same relief carer. The big lesson for us was that you can’t just pay the bill and forget about it; you’ve got to take an interest, get to know the carers as human beings. When we needed a new carer, the agency would send us CVs and we’d discuss them with the local manager, and I’d do a quick telephone interview with them. We also made a ‘Welcome’ document with background about my aunt and the family, together with her preferences and contact info, which we kept up to date. That was really valuable.
We called the carers every few days and someone would pop in regularly. We learned to ask, ‘How are things?’ and look at their expression. We’d ask what they’d been cooking – whether they took the easy way out and just re-heated frozen food – and if they’d been able to take my aunt out at all.
The big lesson for us was that you can’t just pay the bill and forget about it; you’ve got to take an interest, get to know the carers as human beings.
Home care: the good and not so good
Some of the best carers had often been nurses and they loved my aunt and the job. We could tell the ones who simply thought of her as a patient. They just needed the money and often became very frustrated and did things for their own convenience. You must be alert and ready to take action – even good people can snap under stress. We had two carers removed because they became abusive to my aunt.
It settled into a very good system and, at the end, a carer – a wonderful 19-year-old from the UK – sat with my aunt through the night so that she wouldn’t die alone.”