This is one of the most difficult questions for a family caregiver to answer. But maybe there’s a better way to ask the question: when is it bad to bring in a professional caregiver for the first time?

Because the answer to that question is not only simpler, it is also easier for most family caregivers to accept.

Sally Dahlem is a co-owner at Home by Choice, a locally owned home health care agency that provides private-duty homecare services. She has 25 years of experience in the field and just a few months ago was recognized for her work by the Gainesville-Ocala Unit of the National Association of Social Workers. She is certainly one of the leading experts in the community on caregiving.

Sally’s message is don’t wait. If you are a family caregiver then you are in a stressful situation 24-7, but there’s stress and there’s even more stress.

“It’s important to arrange for caregivers before that stress becomes overwhelming,” she said. “You need to do it before the client and family are under so much physical and mental stress that you can’t even begin to bring another person into the picture.”

Planning in advance is critical. If you are caring for a loved one, and it is starting to become the primary function in your life, you should be planning for help right now. The result, if you don’t, is over time you will no longer be able to function as an effective caregiver. Then there are two people in crisis.

Let’s assume you have some outside help already in the form of adult daycare. And let’s say your loved one is sick and can’t go to that daycare for a week. If you have not planned in advance, you are now locked in with that person for the duration of that illness.

This community is blessed with a wide variety of support programs for caregivers and experts who can share their knowledge on caregiving. But if you are locked in with the person for whom you are giving care, those resources are beyond your reach.

Additionally, the caregiver may have their own medical issue and may not be able to care for their loved one. These are all reasons to have introduced them to an outside home care agency.

“Reach out to an agency like Home by Choice and schedule an appointment,” Sally said. “It takes time to find a good match with a professional caregiver.”

Start with a few hours two or three days a week, so both you and your loved one can get accustomed to this new person.

“If you both are familiar with this person over time, it’s more likely that when there is some sort of increasing crisis, they will be more effective for you,” she said. “And as the caregiver, you will be more comfortable leaving your loved one with this professional, so you can take care of yourself.”

As a side note, when you do get to the point where you are using a professional caregiver, it’s important that your loved one understand they are here to help.

Try to make sure they understand that the caregiver is there to help you with household activities,” she said. “They will be more accepting if they don’t think the person is there to help them, but to help you.”

And the professional caregiver should start with the simple things.

“Don’t have them do all the tasks right up front,” she said. “Something like shower assistance should wait until they get to know you better. Once you all get used to each other, you can introduce more challenging tasks.”

But that is issue #2. The first issue is to reach out for professional help. That’s what it’s there for.

By David Greenberg