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Professional Caregiver

By Doris T., a certified home health aide working on Long Island, N.Y.

I have been a paid caregiver since I was 18. I'm 57 now and work as a certified home health aide. I earn $10 to $12 an hour, depending on the case. This kind of work is about the people. If you don't like people, this isn't the job for you.

It seems to me there are more people with Alzheimer's these days, because people are living longer. Taking care of them means you have to have lots of love and lots of patience. Caring for people with Alzheimer's has taught me all the patience I didn't have when I was younger.

The people I take care of often don't recognize me. So a long time ago, I started giving them my first initial—just D, not Doris. For some reason the D sticks with many of them, and they can remember it.

Every day isn't easy. There are good days and bad days. A good day is when they're in a happy mood. You speak to them, and they respond. You can take them for a walk outside and look at the trees. Some patients still have long-term memories they enjoy, and they will tell you old stories. A family member may let you know if it really happened or if it's just a fantasy.

The hardest times are when a person refuses to eat or be washed. They have lost awareness of themselves and don't know it. You need to convince them that if they don't wash, they will smell. And you have to constantly ask them if they need to go to the toilet. That process can take 30 minutes to an hour. They just don't have a sense of their bodies. Other diffcult moments: They don't know the day from the night, and they can wander off.

Recently, I've had a case where the wife takes care of the husband at home. I come every morning Monday through Friday. I get him out of bed, take him to the bathroom, bathe him, shave him and put clean clothes on him. His wife makes him breakfast, and then Senior Services picks him up and takes him to day care. The wife is also getting up in age, so I help her out with some cooking and cleaning. Sometimes I can stay an extra hour, but I have other cases and a family of my own. They are lucky that they can have another aide come in to help for a couple of hours in the evening.

"I always tell my people with Alzheimer's disease, ‘I will see you tomorrow.' I'm trying to let them know that they will be there the next day, and that I will be there for them, too."

This man is a very demanding patient. His wife must love him so much, because she puts up with the behavior. I tell him, "It's nicer when you show your appreciation and say please and thank you." Once in a while he remembers, and then he forgets.

To get by on bad days, I pray for more patience, because you never know if Alzheimer's could happen to you, and you will be the one who needs someone patient to care for you.

I always tell my people with Alzheimer's disease, "I will see you tomorrow." I'm trying to let them know that they will be there the next day, and that I will be there for them, too.

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