The old adage ‘one size fits all’ may be true, but not for senior companion services.  Our seniors come from a variety of backgrounds, and cultures.  Many are retirees from various parts of Canada, or moved here in their youth from Europe or Britain. They’ve come through the depression and the war, struggling through abject poverty.  Other’s are retired CEO’s of companies, or retired teachers, administrators, conductors, or professional opera singers!

Regardless of their backgrounds, the humour and intelligence that emanates from their stories are entertaining and refreshing.  One senior quite literally told us in our interview that she met her husband in bed.  You can imagine the reaction!  While waiting for the punch line, we were not disappointed.  She was the nurse that cared for him.

Good humour is not naturally inherent in all of our elderly clients.   Some suffer from dementia, or debilitating diseases that render them unable to endure humor – or communicate as well as they once did. This can make it a greater challenge to be a companion for them.  Non-verbal companionship can be a huge struggle with the elder that no longer communicates.

Matching your companion carer to your loved one can be simpler than one thinks.  Many caregivers are looking for a meaningful ‘after retirement’ career.  With  background careers in dentistry, teaching, catering, nursing, and home making/raising children, our carers have the right mix of experience to be a good companion.  After all – the number one consideration for most seniors is ‘good food,’ home cooked meals with great nutritious selection and presentation, and the number two consideration is good conversation.  By delving into the backgrounds of the senior and the caregiver, we are able to establish who might be the best carer.  Knowing the interests of both, will help you to select the ‘best fit’.

One senior recently expressed “not having had a great number of caregivers in the past, I didn’t realize how much I dreaded someone coming.”  When asked why that was, they said “we just don’t click!  Then you sent another person for the extra weekly shift, and it was like a breath of fresh air!”

When hiring for a companion, we ask them many questions about themselves, their interests and how they think they can make a difference in a senior’s life.  We look for those who have the ability to ‘wear different hats’ – those that can leave the home of a British couple, where the husband is still called “the major” and enter the home of a widower who is a joker and a tease!  It’s being able to change your colours – like a chameleon.  Good communication requires adaptation to your audience.

When travelling home to home, the caregiver is often thinking of who they are going to see and what they may need to do in preparation for their visit.  A good companion will even bring activities with them, such as puzzles, colouring books, or card games depending on the interest of their client.

Here are some tips to consider when hiring the right agency or companion for your loved one:

  1. Do your research. Even the agency you will work with should fit the criteria of the ‘best fit’. Read through websites, and call to speak with various agencies to get a feel of the levels of support you will receive.  You must feel that communication channels are open between yourself and the agency representative and that they are open to hearing your concerns.
  2. Testimonials & references. You may ask about references for various workers the agency might supply.  You could ask for their characteristics.  Read the testimonials of other patients to ascertain if the agency is the right fit.
  3. Provide the details. Let the agency know as much as possible about your loved ones background. You will want a carer that has experience in these areas.
  4. Consistency and regular shifts. By having regular shifts, times and seniors to work with, both the caregiver and the senior benefit.  If caregivers and seniors are constantly changing, neither of them have time to establish a relationship – the visits don’t have time to create a ‘best fit’.
  5. Age matters! Select a carer that will be able to relate well to your loved one.  We enjoy matching our retired companions to our seniors.  Especially those with great cooking and home making skills.

Sometimes we match the senior to a young caregiver that reminds them of their own grand-children.  Often however there are at least 3 generations between them, and the carer and senior don’t actually ‘speak the same language’.  Use of slang words or not being able to relate to the senior or they to the younger carer, can create great huge gaps in the companion visit.

We know we have a ‘good fit’ when we receive references for companions such as these: “she has brightened mom’s spirits and shown her such love as if she were her own mom, taking her on outings and to musical concerts” and  “she has the heart of an angel and when we went to see mom, it was the miracle we all were looking for.  She gave mom’s life new meaning”! These are meaningful comments, and ones an agency will pick up on making it easier to match the carer to the correct senior.

Our companions often get as much out of the visit as they give!  One caregiver a retired RN stated after her first shift ‘You pay me to do this?  I should pay you’.

Regardless of who the senior client is, there is a certain someone that can make a difference in their lives.  We utilize a saying ‘till death do us part’ as many of our carers have seen a client through hourly, overnight, live-in and palliative care – and are present at their funeral.

It may take a couple of times to find that person, but embracing the “best fit approach” will certainly ensure the family that not only is the agency you are working with the right fit, but that they will indeed match your mom or dad to the ‘best fit’ in a caregiver.