What Does a Personal Assistant For The Elderly Actually Do?

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How Can Older People be in Control of Decision Making About Their Care and Support Needs?
18/02/2019
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When it comes to care and support options for the elderly, there are far more choices to look into than you might first think. Most people tend to jump straight towards considering at-home carers, living with a relative, or even care homes, but there are many other measures which fit in-between those options. For instance, have you considered a personal assistant?

A personal assistant for the elderly is a great way to support and elderly person in the areas they need it, but to maintain their freedom and independence otherwise.

For instance, an elderly person doesn’t necessarily need help with every aspect of their lives. Every single elderly person you meet will need support with a different thing, e.g. you will meet someone who is perfectly able to dress themselves, clean the house, and make their meals, but they might need a little assistance with remembering to take their medication, or looking after household bills. On the flip-side, you might meet an elderly person who has no issues with medication, they can organise the paperwork side of life with no issues, but they might struggle to get in and out of the bath, with problems directed more towards mobility.

Choosing the right care and support package for an elderly person is about a personalised, bespoke approach. The whole process has to be decided upon by the elderly person themselves, with all the information they need to make the right choice.

A personal assistant is a great choice for an elderly person who needs help with a few tasks in life, but is otherwise fine to live alone and stay within their home environment. This is perfect for maintaining independence and dignity as the ageing process begins.

What is a Personal Assistant For The Elderly?

You will have heard about personal assistants who help business people run their days, e.g. they look after appointments, open the mail, and do all the administrative based tasks. This helps the business person focus their time and attention on more specific items, e.g. actually running the business. A personal assistant for the elderly is quite similar in many ways.

A personal assistant for the elderly helps an older person with activities related to general life, e.g. managing money, paying bills on time, making appointments, arranging transport or actually catching the transport, and tasks around the house which the person might otherwise struggle with. In many ways, a personal assistant for the elderly is a jack of all trade, but they are there to mainly focus on general tasks, rather than the care and medical side of things. This is ideal for an elderly person who simply need help with this side of life.

A few tasks which a personal assistant for the elderly may perform include:

  • Helping to make travel arrangements if an elderly person needs to go somewhere, e.g. a doctor’s appointment, or they are going away for the weekend with friends or family
  • Looking after the home, e.g. cleaning, keeping the garden tidy, maintenance tasks around the house, such as lightbulbs which need changing
  • Helping with writing shopping lists and actually going out and doing the shopping, plus putting it away afterwards
  • Opening the mail and actioning anything which requires attention
  • Helping the elderly person with their hobbies, so they can continue to enjoy whatever they do
  • Help to plan holidays, making arrangements, and then helping prepare, such as packing, arranging vaccinations, exchanging travel currency
  • Helping with maintenance of a vehicle, if the person has one
  • Running general errands
  • Planning social activities and making the necessary arrangements

These are just a few of the main types of tasks which a personal assistant for the elderly may do. Of course, there are likely to be countless more besides, and it completely depends upon the person involved. One person might need many more tasks completing than another, whereas another elderly person might just need the odd bit of help on a less regular basis. A personal assistant service is a totally bespoke option, which can be personalised accordingly.

The whole point of a personal assistant in this setting is to help them to maintain their current independence and the quality of life they have. An elderly person shouldn’t have to avoid doing something or stop doing something they enjoy just because arranging something has become difficult, or getting there is hard. These are tasks which a personal assistant can do and continue the same quality of life for the person to enjoy.  

Who is a Personal Assistant For?

A personal assistant of this kind is not really designed to be used by an elderly person who requires a lot of medical or personal care. For instance, a personal assistant would not help with bathing or dressing, and that area would be more targeted towards an at-home carer, who would visit the home at set times, and therefore help with such tasks.

A personal assistant is for an elderly person who is still quite active and socially in-touch, but struggles to do other tasks, e.g. administrative or around the home and garden. A personal assistant is a jack of all trades, but not particularly in the medical sense.

If an elderly person requires assistance with personal care, e.g. bathing, dressing, feeding, and medication, an at-home carer is a great choice. The other options are of course living with a relative, if this is suitable for both parties, and there is also the last resort option of a care home.

Many elderly people refuse to move into a care home, because it means leaving their home, which they do not want to do. That is a completely understandable decision to make, and one which should be respected. A care home is also not really the place for an elderly person who doesn’t need specific care. If an elderly person simply needs help with any of the jobs above, a personal assistant is the ideal option.

How to Choose The Best Personal Assistant For The Elderly

We are talking about a person who will be interacting with your loved one very closely, so it is important to make sure that the right person is employed to do the job. Agencies are the best option here, as professionals who are signed to their books have been vetted rigorously in terms of their background, and they have the specific qualifications and experiences to go with the job title.

You do not want simply anyone deciding they are going to work with your loved one, and even though many of the tasks on the job description aren’t really medically-minded, you are still putting your trust in someone to care for and look after your elderly loved one. That requires a certain type of training, e.g. social care.

You should certainly consider personality very carefully. Your loved one needs to be the person who makes the final decision, because they need to bond on a personal level with this person. They need to have the same sense of humour, they need to understand each other, and your loved one needs to feel comfortable and at ease with them when they are around. They also need to trust that any job they give to personal assistant is going to be completed properly and carefully.

A few tasks on the personal assistant job list are quite sensitive. For instance, paying bills and looking after finances. These are tasks which require the person to access sensitive information about your loved one. Trust here is vital, as is professionalism.

The traits and areas to be on the look out for include:

  • Qualifications
  • Experiences
  • Background checks
  • References from previous employers and clients
  • A sense of humour
  • Trust
  • Go with your gut – do they seem like they are a good fit?
  • Do they bond with your loved one easily?
  • Professionalism
  • An eagerness to go the extra mile
  • They don’t mind doing any job, obviously within reason
  • A good level of physical fitness, especially important if they are going to be helping with house and garden maintenance
  • Are they organised and efficient?

These are all areas you can find from their background, but also from talking to them and getting a feel for the person they are deep down. Much of this type of role is about personality and trust, and if you get a feeling that something isn’t quite right on that score, it’s best to move on and find someone else.

Who Should Make The Final Decision?

It’s easy to want to take over when it comes to an elderly relative, parent, or close friend, and their care and support options, but it has to be their decision in the end. All you can do is arm them with the information they need to make the right decision, and answer any questions they may have.

Many elderly people are fiercely independent and want to continue to do everything themselves for as long as they can. It can be hard to face up to the idea that perhaps you’re not as able as you once were, and for that reason it is vital to maintain their dignity at all times. You should respect their choices and boundaries, and never a push a decision they may not be ready for onto them.

An elderly person who doesn’t necessarily need specific medical care, but instead needs help around the house or with administrative tasks may find it extremely difficult to make the kind of decision. They may feel that they should only ask for help when they are physically or mentally unable to cope on their own, but that certainly isn’t the case. Quality of life is just as important and ensuring that your loved one can continue to live their life in the same way is vital. Remember, social elements are important for the elderly, because it helps to maintain connections and boost cognitive function. If an elderly person is unable to go out and see friends, unable to get out and go for walks, or can’t do the things they always used to enjoy, their mood is not going to be positive, and that can have far-reaching repercussions.

A personal assistant allows an elderly person who needs a little support with general tasks to continue on with their life in the same way, without struggles or unhappiness. As as result, this can take the pressure off the family also, because we all know that people have jobs, homes, and lives that they need to attend to. It can cause a lot of guilty and resentment when an elderly loved one needs help but the family are unable to be there all the time to give it. A personal assistant can take this stress and burden away, helping the elderly person to continue to do the things they love, and also giving peace of mind to the family. Provided the personal assistant and your loved one bond, there is also a new social element to take into account.

Of course, at the end of the day, the decision to have a personal assistant or not needs to be down to the person themselves. You cannot force or push any kind of care arrangement onto an elderly person. What you can do is give them information and explain how a personal assistant might be able to help them. The way you do this is vital – never talk down to your elderly loved one or make them feel that they cannot cope, or that they are unable to do important things. Explain that this is to help, not to take over, and that it certainly doesn’t mean they are incapable of anything.

Maintaining independence and dignity is vital when discussing any type of care or support arrangement, but it is also something which can drastically change and help an elderly person as they notice the changes in their life, due to the ageing process.