Senior Care

Senior Care by Lorraine Durnford-Hill

It is 7 pm and an older woman has just gotten back from dinner and is sitting in her chair drifting in and out of sleep.  There is a knock on the door and a young girl walks in “Mildred, Hello Mildred”.   She walks up to the chair “Mildred?”.  The woman looks up and smiles.  “How are you tonight?” – Fine.  Do you need anything? – No.   The young girl goes over to the book signs that she has offered emotional support, the client didn’t need anything and leaves.

The woman in the chair is my 97 year old Mother.  Family and friends call her Kay, but the PSW doesn’t know that because there is a new worker every day.  Let me share my side of the story.

When she was 93 my mother decided she wanted to move to a retirement home where all her social activities would be all under the same roof.  This was a great option for a few years until she started to need more support.  For 90 + years my mother had been independent and now we had to arrange for some extra support.  We called CCAC to arrange for a Personal Support Worker (PSW) to come in 2 times a day to help with dressing and undressing, personal hygiene and preparing a bedtime snack.

The plan was that someone would come in about 9 in the morning to get her ready for the day and put in her hearing aids and someone else would come in at night to help prepare her for bed.  However what happened is that they would show up any time between 7 – 10 am   or 6-10 pm.  This left mom frustrated because she never knew when to expect them and didn’t want to get ready for bed at 6 or 7pm, she still had Bingo or a card game to play until 8.  Often mom would tell them to she didn’t want help because she wasn’t ready to get up or go to bed then struggle for 45 minutes to do the process on her own.    Many phone calls back and forth and we would get it resolved then a new person would come in and the problem was back.  As family members, my sister and I became very frustrated with the services and limitations.  We realized how important it was for the family to be aware and advocate for appropriate support.

Did you know that there are 2.3 million people over the age of 65 in Ontario and that is only going to double in the next 20 years?

I decided to look into the other side of the story from the PSWs’ point of view.  My internet search found a report from CBC stating that some PSWs can be requested to see up to 4 clients in one shift.  That is 15 minutes per client.  This leads to an assembly line service that doesn’t provide true support for our seniors who need and deserve quality care.

Fifteen minutes does not allow time for much.   It often would take my mother 5 minutes to walk to bathroom, then do what she needs to do and walk back.  This would burn up the allotted time leaving no time for emotional support, preparing a snack or preparing for the next part of the day.

I also learned that there is no consistent training for the PSWs, although that is improving.  PSWs work shiftwork, being offered mostly part time hours.  Therefore the client may often get a different PSW each day.  PSWs are also subject to verbal and physical abuse from people who have diminishing cognitive functioning, in extreme pain and frustrated family/caregivers.  We interacted with some fabulous PSW and some who were just doing a job and did not care about the residents.  Some times we would get a phone call to let us know that there would be no PSW some evenings and sometimes they just didn’t show up without even a phone call.

A quote by Cindy Macdonald speaks to aging.  “We are all going to age, no one can escape, it is how gracefully we handle the process and how lucky we are as the process handles us.” 

It is important to remember people may not remember your name but they will remember how you make them feel.  One PSW shared that mom was the only client that purred when they washed her back or brushed her hair.  It is the simple things that can make someone’s day.  That worker made my mom’s day.

Seniors need more help, but before jumping to conclusions about PSWs, we need to look at the other side of the story and put more pressure on the government to put better systems in place.  After all, we are all going to be old some day!!

Lorraine Durnford-Hill

P.S.  If you know a PSW thank them for the dedication and support, especially for the past year and a half with the Pandemic

Lorraine is an independent consultant who works with children who have different needs.  She also works with adults who have issues with anger management.  She has taught at Georgian College and recently worked with a group of teachers for a Professional Development day on communication.  Her website is MyChildIsSpecial


Add your thoughts to this Senior Care issue by contacting CARP

Fran Watson

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