Offering a helping hand; Seniors receive care from a new local program

Linda and Dick McIntosh are Seniors Helping Seniors, a business that helps senior citizens with physical tasks in their homes. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Linda and Dick McIntosh are Seniors Helping Seniors, a business that helps senior citizens with physical tasks in their homes. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

At 92 years old, Harold Busker of Austin is still able to do many physical tasks on his own, and although his son Daryl Busker is his main caretaker, sometimes the family needs a bit of outside help.

Harold receives help from a company called Seniors Helping Seniors, which pairs senior citizens who need help with seniors who want to help. Richard “Dick” McIntosh and his wife Linda opened the franchise last November, and the Buskers have been using the service since May.

“In the summer we usually go to our lake home on the weekends,” Daryl said. “And so it was to the point where our kids were busy doing stuff and we needed some time to get away, so we figured this Seniors Helping Seniors would be a good deal.”

Though Harold can do many things on his own, the family realized someone needed to be able to check in on him when they were away at the cabin after Harold fell in his home about five years ago and wasn’t found for about three days. He had also taken off his emergency-button at the time. Harold recovered, but after that Daryl knew they needed outside help. Since his father doesn’t need help with medication or nursing, the family was able to use the program, where providers do small tasks such as making breakfast and light housekeeping, and mainly give companionship.

“It’s been outstanding,” Daryl said. “The people have been real nice to him and treat him good, and it makes life a little bit easier on us so we don’t have to worry.”

McIntosh, who owned a carpet and air duct business for 16 years, started the program after he was bought out by another employee but didn’t want to retire and saw an ad for the company.

“I thought, ‘Boy that’s a cool idea,’” he said. “Because my family has a tradition of taking care of family members.”

McIntosh runs the business from the opposite side of the duplex he and his wife live in Austin. The business covers five counties, including Mower County, Freeborn County, Dodge County, Steele County and Olmsted County. McIntosh said the main point is to provide non-medical care for seniors at home, yet since most of the providers are considered seniors themselves the relationship between the provider and receiver is more peer to peer. He joked that the providers won’t text on their phones the entire time they are at the receiver’s home, mainly because many don’t know how to text. Provider’s range from around 55- to 80-years-old.

“They’re still able to provide the service but they have a lot more in common with the [receivers] than a 20- or 30-year-old has,” said McIntosh, who explained he understands the needs more now that he is 64 than he did when he was in his 20s.

For Anne Koch, being a provider came naturally to her after years in professions of helping people.

“I was well aware of the need for this level of service within our community and was excited about getting involved,” Koch wrote in an email to the Herald.

She was one of the first providers hired last fall and said it has been a good fit for both her and her receivers. She enjoys developing relationships with people while helping them keep their independence. She currently helps about six different receivers, driving them to appointments, making meals, and doing light housekeeping, depending on the receiver’s needs. Koch is retired from the Austin Public Schools where she worked as an occupational therapist with the Early Childhood Special Education program. She is also a registered nurse.

“I hope to continue my involvement with this program for as long as I am able,” Koch said. “This kind of work gives me purpose each day and I benefit greatly from the relationships that are created.”

Some receivers only need help for a few weeks after a surgery or accident, while others need help on a more regular basis. For Harold, someone comes a few hours Saturdays and Sundays when his son is away. Since Daryl is also retired, he spends a few hours every day during the week at his father’s home.

“A peace of mind is what we pretty much were looking for,” Daryl said. “Because I’m retired, and my wife works 40-50 hours a week, when it comes to the weekend she needs some break in the action too, so that’s where these people come in, step up and kind of take over. It just gives us a time to get away.”

McIntosh was surprised to learn a big reason seniors can’t stay in their own home is because, while they may be physically able to do many things, their caretakers can’t spend as much time as needed, or simply get burned out. One of the reasons people use the program is to simply give caretakers a break during the week.

For Jeanne Poppe and her husband, Bob Vilt, the program has allowed Vilt to stay in his home despite memory loss issues.

“He needs to be supervised when I’m not available,” Poppe said. “He doesn’t need a lot of care, like nursing care or home health care like that, but he needs just supervision so he doesn’t do something he’s not supposed to do.”

Poppe said the providers will go on walks with Bob and their dog, take him to a senior center to play pool or visit with friends, or just provide companionship. They have used the service since May and have had good experience with the providers. She said compared to other facilities or care providers, this program fits her husband’s needs better since he doesn’t need medical assistance.

“So really what this does is allows him to stay home in a comfortable, familiar setting,” Poppe said. “He has dogs and cats and can keep them around him, which is healthy, he can call friends or have them stop by, and he knows the neighborhood. So it’s just a comfort.”

“What the service does for me is just gives me peace of mind,” she added.

McIntosh said the program has started to pick up since people have learned about it, and he has received good feedback in the last few months.

“The whole idea is that it’s a circle of care and compassion,” McIntosh said. “The provider gets a lot out of the relationship too because they’re able to spend time with somebody that has some life experiences important for the provider to hear, but also a real friendship develops.”

For more information about the program, visit http://www.seniorcareseminnesota.com/.

 

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