New model helps take guess work out of finding elder care

Resources to find care in Georgia

  • To learn about programs and services available to Georgians, visit the aging network online at www.aging.ga.gov.
  • To search a database of services coordinated by Georgia's 12 Area Agencies on Aging, visit www.GeorgiaServicesforSeniors.org.
  • Trained information specialists are available toll-free at 1-866-552-4464 . They operate a database with more than 24,000 entries and can help callers identify needed services available through the federally funded Older Americans Act, state programs, and privately paid service providers.

Source: Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services

In the beginning, Jo Tate’s husband and children weren’t sure if the memory lapses were just part of the aging process or if something more complex. When doctors diagnosed Jo with dementia five years ago, the Acworth family rallied.

While her husband Robert E. Tate Sr. took on the role of primary caregiver, the Tate’s children Robert Jr. and Nevienne Tate-Alpough helped fill in the gaps.

Three years later, Robert Sr. could no longer deny he needed additional help but even then he was uncomfortable bringing a stranger into their home.

The only thing he knew for sure, he said recently, was he would not leave Jo, 73, to fend for herself in an assisted living facility.

“That’s my woman,” he explained.

But the Tates had no idea where to turn. The couple’s children found their answer on CareFamily: an online service that matches families needing in-home senior care with care providers.

It used to be families turned to senior care agencies or hired caregivers via placement services or online ads without the benefit of background checks or liability insurance, leaving the hiring process and day-to-day caregiver management up to families.

But online websites such as CareFamily, CareLinx and AARP Care Scout Service are taking much of the worry out of the process, helping families find reliable and affordable home care. The need for such services is expected to grow. For instance, one in 8 people age 65 and older have Alzheimer's disease, including about 120,000 Georgians.

Dr. James Bulot, director of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services, said that such online portals give caregivers more control, flexibility, and independence, features expected in today’s computerized age.

“This aligns with the growing consumer direction trend in aging services,” he said. “Aging professionals recognize that individuals and families are the best experts at knowing what they need, when it’s needed, and how it should be delivered. Online services help people individualize the care planning experience so that it’s customized for their situation.”

Bulot cautioned, however, that some websites might present biased information.

Family members, he said, should find out how the service selects listed providers, if providers are required to pay a fee to be included in the database, and if families are required to provide contact information, what will the service do with those personal details?

“Ideally, people should have self-help tools available online plus expert assistance when they want a trained guide,” Bulot said. “Georgia’s aging network offers two fully objective, free resources that work together: a searchable online database for do-it-yourselfers, along with trained information specialists who help callers make informed decisions about thousands of services available. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The Tates said CareFamily, which has more than 50,000 caregiver members providing care in Georgia and 35 other states, came with high ratings and took "a lot of the worry out of the process."

Tom Knox, founder and CEO of CareFamily said the “goal is to help families safely manage the process without a middle man.” Fifty percent of its clients are dealing with a senior suffering from some sort of dementia like the Tates.

Carol Steinberg, president of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, said that “protecting a loved one with dementia or another illness is a family’s greatest desire, but also their greatest challenge.”

When looking for assistance, she said it’s important families balance all of the pros and cons of each hiring alternative to ensure that their loved one is in good hands.

“Doing due diligence is paramount in whichever route you take to hiring a caregiver,” Steinberg said.

After a series of interviews, the Tates found their match, Veronica Wangombe, a certified nurses aide within five miles of their home.

“She stood out,” Tate-Alpough said of Wangombe’s photograph and resume during a visit to her parents’ home in Acworth.

The Tates said they wanted someone over 40 who had experience working with someone with dementia and who lived within a 10-mile radius of their home. They provided details about their mother and father and waited.

“We got a lot of postings back and basically filtered through them,” Tate-Alpough said. “There was one person who stuck with us during the interview process, Veronica.”

Wangombe, 41, arrived 15 minutes early for the October interview. She made eye contact. She answered all of their questions.

“I could see that this was her passion,” Tate-Alpough said. “She agreed to a two week trail period and she’s been with us ever since.”

Wangombe takes care of Jo for four hours, three days a week and is always 10 minutes early.

“I just can’t believe how prompt she is,” Tate-Alpough. “That’s a sticking point with my dad.”

Wangombe said she considers her time with Jo their social hour, when they can talk and laugh.

“This isn’t just a job,” she said. “I want to see her get better.”

Tate-Alpough said if the family could afford it, Wangombe would come every day.

“I brag about Veronica all the time,” she said. “We feel very fortunate and dad has said I think she’s truly made a difference.”