By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: How do I prioritize the many daily issues that I have to address? Fran in Connecticut, 60

ANSWER: The first thing you must do is figure out exactly what kind of help you need. Often, your elder's needs (as well as your own) can be met by tapping into your network of family and friends. Look into this before you hire anyone. Ask who's available to help in your network of family and friends. Don't be afraid to ask. Some family and friends can offer financial help, transportation, food, cooking skills, or legal expertise. Get as much free help as you can, but be clear about your elder's needs when asking friends and family for their assistance. How long will your elder require their help - a few weeks, months, a year? People are more likely to lend a hand if the role and time commitment are both clearly defined. They like to know where the finish line is. Some will contribute to a short sprint, while others will be in it for the long haul. You have to know how to ask for help from all types.

The most common tasks include cleaning the home, handyman work like fixing broken items, loose wires, windows, and rotted wood, and taking care of trash disposal. There's a wide variety of help available in your local community, so be resourceful about where and how you find the help. You can hire help on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, all determined by on your needs, financial ability, and your elder's wishes.

The caregiving challenge could be one of the most difficult things you face in your life. You can't go it alone. If at all possible, you should hire help when and where appropriate to take some of the caregiving load off your shoulders. It's often quite difficult, if not impossible, for your elder to find a trustworthy, affordable housekeeper, handyperson, or aide. Seniors often don't know where to find the contacts or what the going rate is for services that are needed. Make your elder's life easier and safer by taking on this responsibility. Do research, ask your friends and your elder's friends for references, interview candidates, and then hire someone.

Hiring help or assistance can be time consuming, but it's well worth the effort, and if you're persistent, you'll eventually find the right person. After I interview an aide, I also have my client speak with the person to make sure they feel comfortable. It's their home and space, and they usually don't take too kindly to "outsiders."

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.