Family finds benefits and comfort in home support for loved one

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Rosa Michaud’s husband of 58 years, Harold Michaud, was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago, she was determined to take care of him in their own home for as long as possible. 

But as Harold’s dementia caused further memory loss and he required more assistance with daily activities, Rosa and her family realized that even they could use a helping hand.

Though Harold, 84, now lives in a local nursing home, he was able to spend much more time in his own Presque Isle home thanks to personal support specialists from Aroostook Agency on Aging. For around four years, PSS workers were there weekly to help with laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and daily hygiene tasks such as bathing and shaving.

Prior to Harold’s diagnosis, Rosa, 81, had tried to handle the role of caregiver. She and Harold even sold their house and moved into a smaller apartment that required less upkeep. For a while, she believed she should navigate that role primarily on her own, with the help of her grown children. 

But having a personal support specialist there to assist and visit with Harold soon became “a godsend” for the couple.

“He loved having them around,” Rosa Michaud said. “He enjoyed talking with them and sharing stories.” 

Rosa said she felt guilty many times for admitting that Harold’s daily care was more than she could physically and emotionally handle. But she realized that even she, as a caregiver, needed time each day to care for herself. If Harold and a PSS were going for a walk or spending time together at home, Rosa would go grocery shopping, attend appointments or volunteer at the hospital.

Rosa’s family believes that the four support specialists who entered Harold’s life over the years allowed him to live at home much longer than if he had not had extra support. Daughter Vi Belanger remembered how one PSS encouraged Harold’s love of music.

“She would have Dad play his harmonica while she was washing his feet. It made the time fly by,” Belanger said. “[All the specialists] got to know him so well and were so respectful. They became like members of the family.”

Such stories are common for people who have benefited from the personal support services, according to Laureen Carlisle, manager of ElderCare in-home services for Aroostook Agency on Aging. 

Across Aroostook County, there are 70 specialists working with at least 150 clients. Many of those clients want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible, but have faced physical and medical challenges that make daily tasks difficult for them and their spouses. 

For those with certain medical conditions, having an extra person around the house could mean the difference between a healthy quality of life and serious setbacks. Unlike registered nurses, support personnel cannot prescribe or help clients take medications or perform medical treatments. But they often recognize when a client is struggling more than normal and know when to notify others.

“A PSS can notice when someone hasn’t been taking their medication or if they’ve had a hard time getting out of bed,” Carlisle said. “It’s about having an extra set of eyes around to make sure the person is safe and healthy.”

Personal support specialists are paid agency staff members who complete a 50-hour training course and often have flexible work hours depending on how many people they care for and what their needs are. In recent years, the aging workforce in Aroostook County has led to the Agency on Aging partnering with other local home care agencies to provide sufficient care to the people they serve.

Though many specialists are older, retired individuals, Carlisle said that anybody with a compassionate personality and a willingness to help others in difficult circumstances should consider applying for a position. 

“We and other agencies are desperately in need of PSS help. There is a shortage of workers nationwide,” Carlisle said. “The number of people we’re able to help depends on the number of people we’re able to hire.”

For families like the Michauds, being able to have an additional companion allowed them more time at home with someone they love. Today, they urge families in similar situations to consider reaching out for help.

“I’d say it added at least three or four years of Mom and Dad being able to stay together,” Vi Belanger said. “We owe them so much gratitude for how they treated Dad. We always knew he was in good hands.”