Dena Merritt of Spring Grove said she prayed for the right doors to open and lead her on to her next steps in life, and they did.
Merritt, 60, was a caregiver for a disabled veteran who struggled with Parkinson’s for more than six years. After she saw “him through his journey of life,” she said she still had in her heart to care for others.
Seminara is a widower who survived a stroke more than two years ago and lost his ability to live alone in his home without help. He and his wife were married 68 years before she died in 2021, he said.
Where some older adults in similar situation may have gone into assisted-living facilities, Seminara has been able to stay in his home he once shared with his late wife thanks to the assistance.
As his voice cracked with emotion Monday, Seminara said Merritt is “like a mother” to him.
Merritt said she feels “very blessed.”
“It definitely makes your heart quite full,” Merritt said of caring for Seminara.
But the profession is in need of more caregivers like Merritt who have a heart of compassion and empathy and desire to help.
“The elderly need us now more than ever and I feel like there is a great shortage,” Merritt said. “They deserve so much better and we have to do better for them.”
Hoping to hire at least 30 new caregivers, Home Instead is hosting a job fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday in their office at 241 Commerce Drive, Suite 100, Crystal Lake.
Lisa Gasior, office manager and human resources coordinator at Home Instead, which also has an office in McHenry, said she gets several calls each day from families who need immediate help caring for their aging family member.
“It’s continuous. The phones don’t stop ringing,” Gasior said.
Home Instead currently has 70 caregivers and 60 clients. Gasior hopes to have a total 100 caregivers.
“That would make us really happy,” Gasior said. “We wouldn’t have to turn anyone away.”
Gasior said they have few requirements other than the heart to care for someone, valid driver’s license and auto insurance. They train caregivers from all backgrounds and all levels of experience, she said.
The job typically includes helping with personal hygiene, some light cleaning, cooking, driving to appointments or to pick up medications, Gasior said.
But most important is companionship, caregiver professionals say.
After the holidays, a survey done by Home Instead showed there was a “dramatic increase in service inquiries from concerned families in need of support.”
The survey “found that one out of five Americans saw a noticeable decline in an aging loved one’s well-being while together over the holidays.”
Many older adults plan to age in their own home for as long as possible. Without support, this becomes more difficult and dangerous because of cognitive and mobility changes that come with aging.
“It’s important that families look for and recognize these changes when spending time with the older adults they love,” said Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, gerontologist and caregiver advocate for Home Instead, Inc. “In our survey, one out of three people said they noticed changes but will wait to see if they get worse before doing anything to help. We urge families to act immediately if they notice someone is not quite as capable as they used to be, and ensure they are set up to safely thrive at home.”
Caregiving will require more than 1 million new care professionals by 2030, when the last baby boomers turn 65, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“More than 10,000 people turn 65 every day in the United States, and people are living longer, healthier lives,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Healthy lifestyles, planning for retirement, and knowing your options for health care and long-term care are more important than ever before.”
In McHenry County and its surrounding areas, there are currently about 92,000 people ages 65 and older, according to Home Instead.
“They are just wonderful,” Seminara said of Merritt who is with him 13 hours a day, four days a week, and others who help care for him.
Merritt replied: “I look out for you like you are my own family, and we are, you are my extended family ... We love you Joe.”