When I was young, there was no such thing as assisted living homes. Or, if there was, I certainly never heard of them. My great grandmother, a widow, lived for many years in a small house especially built for her behind my grandparents’ house. When she became bed-ridden, my grandparents moved her into their house where she stayed the rest of her life. I remember sitting with my great-grandmother once in a while so that my grand-mother could go shopping, and I’m sure a few other relatives did the same.
Not many years after I grew up, group homes for the elderly became popular and it was more common for families to move their relatives into one of these establishments than to care for them at home. Recently, probably due in part to the economy, I have seen a shift in the other direction as more and more families are choosing to care for elderly relatives at home.
I think this is good in one sense, as it can draw the family closer together. Children learn that families take care of and rely on each other. The elderly person in question maintains that sense of belonging somewhere. If the older person is still able to get around, they can actually contribute to the household by doing small chores around the house, relieving them of thinking that they are just a burden to their loved ones.
But, even when things go smoothly, caring for an elderly person at home can become very stressful, especially for the caregiver who is on the job day after day with little or no relief. That’s where you could come in.
If you have a few free hours every week, and enjoy visiting with older people, why not set yourself up as a “Senior” sitter? If it sounds like it might be interesting, here are a few tips for launching your new “Senior” sitter business:
1. Decide what your time is worth.
Most people who are caring for elderly relatives at home do not have unlimited funds, so consider their income when you set a rate for your services. If all you are going to do is sit and visit, you might want to stick with minimum wage rates, but if you will be helping your client dress, lift them into a wheel chair, take them for walks, etc., you might want to raise the fee a bit. If the job is going to be done on a regular basis, you might be able to lower your rate a bit, because you won’t have to be out strumming up new business all the time.
2. Get the word out that you’re available.
Doing this is pretty much like getting the word out about any other business. Make up some flyers and post them on bulletin boards around town. If you have a set hourly rate, put it on your flyer, or say “rates negotiable.” Ask your pastor, a business person in town, or an employer to agree to give you a reference and mention on your flyer that you will provide references. Add your phone number and a good time to reach you, and then wait for requests to pour in.
3. Let everyone you meet know that you are doing “Senior” sitting.
The chances are that most of the people you are acquainted with know of someone who is pretty much confined at home with an elderly relative, or even a handicapped spouse. They will be happy to let that person know that you are available, and even be a good reference for you.
4. Put together a bag of tricks for your “Senior” sitting gigs.
A friend of mine was a substitute teacher and she had a huge bag she called her, “Pinch-hit” bag. In it she had all kinds of spelling games, reading quizzes, mazes, and puzzles that she could use to start the kids out while she had a chance to study the lesson plan left by the teacher if she was called at the last minute in the morning.
Your “Senior” bag of tricks could include some things to help pass the time and make it more interesting for your client. Things like, a harmonica, even if they don’t know how to play one; a little plastic bag of modeling clay you can both create something from; a simple tape recorder to sing into and play back or to tell about memories of his or her childhood; a deck of Old Maid cards-most older folks will remember playing that game from their childhood and it can lead you into a discussion of other things they remember; a simple jigsaw puzzle-with only about 75-100 pieces; a Viewmaster with lots of discs if you have one; etc. You can probably come up with lots of other things on your own and use a trial and error method to find out which ones work best with your particular client.
If the person you are “sitting” gets around well, perhaps you could take them for a walk or spend an hour baking cookies while you are there. Accomplishing something worthwhile always makes a person of any age feel better about himself or herself.
5. Even if your job is a one-time job, always ask for references.
References are very important to a person who is hiring you to watch a loved one—especially a loved one that may have lost some of his or her ability to communicate, so collect as many good references as possible to assure you of jobs in the future.
The nicest thing about this business is the idea that besides earning that little bit of extra money, you are contributing to making the lives of several other people better in the process. First, the elderly or handicapped people you deal with start looking forward to having you come to share time and activities with them. Secondly, whoever hired you is getting a dependable person to take over their responsibilities briefly so they can come back refreshed and ready to go to work again. And finally, you are getting the satisfaction of being able to help someone else who really needs help.
That’s about it. If you start with a client or two a week and each one hires you for a couple of hours, that alone would give you a nice little pile of extra money. Just imagine how that could multiply if you really got serious about it. Who knows, you might even need to hire a helper