March 19th, 2013
This is our first newspaper interview for the Strathmore Times. Many thanks to Shannon for writing the article.
Promoting positive aging through companionship
Shannon LeClair – Times Reporter
As our parents get older, and we ourselves get older, we often wonder what life will be like. Will our partner pass through old age with us, will our children always be close by, or one day will we be alone looking forward to those sometimes few and far between visits?
Taking care of an aging parent can be tough; often children are grown and have their own families, careers and lives to take care of. It doesn’t mean they care any less for their parent, it just means sometimes they aren’t able to be there as much as they may like.
Kindred Companions hopes to fill that gap for many families. Colleen Best and Janet FitzGerald are first cousins, who grew up quite close to each other. They have both retired and semi-retired from their careers and were looking to find a way to fill time.
“We wanted to do something meaningful, something where there was a need to be met and something where we could work part time or more or less as we decided,” said FitzGerald
“When talking about demographics we could have zeroed in on the seniors population because it is growing and there’s a lot of people out there who don’t have family, don’t have regular visitors.
Maybe their basic needs are being cared for in a long-term facility but the hours are very, very long. So we thought, well what about a companionship service where we go in and spend quality time with folks and focus on what their passions are and what brings them a spark and try and customize it to suit them.”
Both women have taken care of their parents when they were ill. FitzGerald’s mom had Alzheimer’s for 20 years before she passed on. FitzGerald became involved with the Alzheimer’s society, learning lot about seniors and their issues. Best nursed both of her parents before they passed away from cancer.
“You learn a new appreciation for age and illness and your levels of compassion seem to just grow. I guess when it’s meaningful like that it’s just something that you keep coming back to, something that you want to do because it feels right, it feels good,” said Best.
Best’s mother-in-law lived in a facility in Burnaby and at first it wasn’t so bad because she was quite active, but as time went by the family could only make it down a few times a year. Best said it was awful because they never knew how she was doing or anything.
She and her husband did try to hire a couple of people to go in and visit with her and let them know how she was doing, but there were issues with reliability. Best said that one thing she and FitzGerald promise to be is reliable and to report back after every visit.
“When you’re with a client you’re kind of thinking this is me in 20 years, how would I want to be treated and it’s kind of your reference point. Sometimes you can walk through a facility and you could hit a cannon through there it’s so quiet, there needs to be more going on in there,” said FitzGerald.
Besides being reliable the two women also want their visits with clients to be fun. They will sing with them, bring in pets or children, and try to fill the time with fun activities.
The ladies are meant to be companions who may help their client go grocery shopping, or maybe cook a meal together, or maybe go with them to an appointment; but they will not be able to fill a nurse’s role.
“One of the thing we try to do too is reconnect people with people who have stopped coming to visit,” said FitzGerald
“Or people who were important to them that they just don’t see anymore,” said Best.
A lot of times people will stop visiting when their loved one isn’t very verbal, said the women. They may find it awkward and aren’t quite sure how to deal with it. FitzGerald said there are plenty of ways to deal with it, like using music, or hugging. One lady she visits with can understand everything that is being said and just loves to listen so FitzGerald is in the process of trying to reconnect some of those lost connections and help them understand.
The women also said creating and leaving behind their client’s legacy is something they would like to do. When the clients are able and inclined to share their stories, the women would like to put something together for their families, whether it is an album, or a book of short stories.
Currently the women have a few clients, but they are hoping to expand the company and maybe one day offer companionship to all seniors in the area. The client can request how many hours a day and what time of day they would like Kindred Companions to be available, even for overnight stays.
When researching different companies and asking questions, the two women found out a client may ask them to be available one hour a day, a couple hours a day, once a week or five times a week, so they try to offer that flexibility as much as possible. Often the clients themselves are the adult children of the senior.
“One thing about this is a lot of seniors themselves would never pay for a service like ours, they’re from the generation where you don’t pay for something that isn’t absolutely necessary,” said FitzGerald.
“So sometimes we get introduced, ‘mom this is a friend of mine that’s going to come and visit you,’ and there’s no mention of that fact that it’s paid service, for good reason because sometimes they’ll be resistant.”
To learn more about Kindred Companions contact Colleen Best at 403-934-6300 or Janet FitzGerald at 403-480-4092. You can also go to their website www.kindredcompanions.ca.