The carer- client relationship
If you ask Koula what it was like meeting 72 year-old Reggie for the first time, she’s very diplomatic. ‘It was…interesting!’ she laughs. Reggie himself is more expansive, ‘Come on, I was a curmudgeon. I got very cross that she was early and I didn’t even offer her a cup of tea!’ Arriving for her first in-home care meeting with Reggie at the ungodly hour of 9:15am (for a 9:30am start), Koula worried she’d gotten off to a bad beginning. Reggie barely spoke during that first session, but his Staffordshire terrier Bertie warmed to her right away. ‘The dog was very welcoming!’ Koula recalls, ‘but I knew that carer relationships take time, so I took things slowly.’
In-home care is an increasingly common way for older Australian’s to maintain their home and lifestyle. A great carer can lift the burden of daily chores from tired shoulders and help retirees do more of what they want. But some people are reticent about seeking in-home care. Worries about letting a stranger into their home and life can be a deterrent for some, as can ‘letting go’ of the things they had complete control over, like gardening and domestic chores. For Reggie, the ‘stranger factor’ played a big role in his resistance. ‘I was pretty uncomfortable having a stranger in my home,’ he admits. ‘My wife had been very house proud and I hadn’t kept up her standards at all. The place was a mess and I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed.’ At which point Koula chimes in, ‘But that’s what I’m here for Reg!’
For people like Koula, the job of carer is a calling she couldn’t resist. After a career in marketing left her questioning her purpose in life, spending time helping another adult enjoy their retirement felt like a job worth doing. She says, ‘I have come across a little bit of resistance and suspicion in my new career. That can be from the client and even from their family. People are wary of helpful strangers!’ But Koula readily acknowledges this aspect of the job is just a part of the process of one human learning to trust and rely on another human. ‘Part of our job often involves helping people in vulnerable states. They need help with showering and things like that. While I am completely used to it and don’t bat an eye, for many older people this is the first time they’ve ever needed intimate help and that takes some getting used to!’
Now Koula and Reggie are like a well-oiled machine, with thrice-weekly visits from Koula that enable Reggie to keep on top of the housework and catch up with friends. Koula says, ‘While that first meeting didn’t go all that well, I did establish that Reggie loved Chess, his dog and playing piano. So together we’ve worked out a great routine that gets him out and about and doing those fun things while I do his shopping and cleaning.’ And for Reggie in-home care has opened his world up in more ways than one. ‘Since meeting Koula I think I’ve become a little bit friendlier!’ He says, and Koula agrees. ‘He never tells me off for being early anymore!’
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