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Personal care aides brighten day for elderly

Nancy Magurn found her calling while taking care of her elderly parents, doing assorted odds and ends around their house: changing bed linens, cleaning, doing laundry, shopping for food, helping them to the toilet, and numerous other chores. They were everyday tasks that she gladly shouldered. “I loved my parents,” says Magurn of Watertown. “They were everything to me.”

So when Magurn – unemployed and facing a downturn in the garment industry, her career niche – saw a want ad for an elder companion, she thought, “Why not?” That was five years ago, and today Magurn is a personal and home care aide for several clients in the Boston area, employed by Senior Homecare Solutions, a Newton based homecare and companionship service for elderly clients and their families. The service allows the elderly to maintain as much independence as possible, keeping loved ones at home, and relieving stress for family caregivers. “I do everything from reminding clients to take medication to bringing them to wakes and funerals,” says Magurn, who says that her role is to provide non-medical care and to be invisible and unobtrusive while making sure those in her care are safe and happy. “It’s kind of a tricky balance, to be at their beck and call but not in their face. You can’t be clanking dishes in the kitchen.”

Employment of personal and homecare aides is projected to grow by 51 percent to 2016, as aging baby boomers face mounting health problems and require assistance with daily living. While the occupation is typically low paying – average earnings are around $9 an hour – aides usually work on their own and can typically set their own schedules without a lot of surveillance and supervision.

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Q: This doesn’t sound like the type of job everyone would enjoy. For example, I hate to clean, so I guess I wouldn’t be the best at it.
A:
It’s definitely not a profession for everybody. You have to have something in your own internal make-up. It takes a lot of patience, love, and compassion. Your clients totally depend on you. There’s a lot of loneliness. I help fill the void for a few hours. Some people just want me to sit and watch TV with them for a while.

Q: What was your day like today?
A:
I visited a woman who had called me earlier and said she was in a lot of pain. We thought it was sciatica, but when the doctor examined her, it turned out that she had been walking around with a broken hip. I was with her for hours while she visited physicians.

Q: How did you train for this position, other than your own experience?
A:
I’m a Certified Companion Aide through The Senior's Choice, a nationwide network of independent senior care companies. You can also get training through other elder care programs, community colleges, homecare agencies, vocational schools, or just on-the-job training.

Q: What are the upsides of being a personal and homecare aide?
A:
It’s very rewarding knowing that you made someone’s day. I knock on the door, and they say, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Q: And the negatives?
A:
A few of my clients have passed away. You get so attached to them, it’s like losing a family member. It’s the downside of the business. But it’s a fact of life.


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