JFS Seeks Senior Companions

Lois K. Solomon

Sun Sentinel (subscription required)

Dec 15, 2015

JFS is looking to train seniors to be paid companions to their fellow seniors who need to be driven places or just need some company. The seniors in need are at the stage where they require some assistance but can mostly take care of themselves.

There's a job available for empathetic adults who want to make some extra money: Senior companions, who help frail elderly with light housekeeping and take them to doctors' appointments, the grocery store or out for coffee.

Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services in West Boca is hiring senior companions to help its aging clients, who remain independent but are starting to need assistance with daily tasks.

The family service wants to expand the program from its 35 companions and 60 clients so more seniors can stay in their homes and be self-sufficient instead of moving into nursing homes.

"The need is growing as people are aging," said Danielle Hartman, president of the service. "It's a first step into home health care."

Hartman said she expects demand for companion-type services to increase dramatically in the coming years as baby boomers age. A 2013 study found that boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, are living longer than people who were born 20 years earlier, but are not as healthy, with numerous conditions that require assistance, such as arthritis, depression and diabetes.

Companions earn $10 an hour, while clients pay $15 an hour. The companion typically works 10 to 20 hours a week, helping clients sort through mail, pick up prescriptions, go for a manicure or visit the library. They don't perform physical tasks such as feeding or bathing, Hartman said.

Myra Bernstein, 85, of Boca Raton, said she stopped driving last year and her husband stopped driving three years ago. Her companions are "two wonderful women" who have taken Bernstein to the mall, the movies, doctor's appointments and out to lunch for the past nine months.

"For me, this is very important, just to get out," Bernstein said. "They're like friends to me."

One of the companions, Gail Ulanow, said she visits two clients, including Bernstein, to whom she has become very close. She said her clients remind her of her own family as she drives them to appointments and they talk about books, movies and family history.

"It makes me feel good that I'm making a difference in someone's life," said Ulanow, 56, of Delray Beach.

Marissa Gordon, who coordinates the program for the family service, said companions must be organized and remain level-headed as they become immersed in some families' complicated dynamics.

Companions also must have clean driving records, she said. A professional background in care giving or personal experience with it is helpful, she said.

"I get dozens of calls a week," Gordon said. "A lot of it is speaking to families from out of town who say their aging parents need help."

For more information about the program, call Gordon at 561-852-3333.

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