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Are You Overwhelmed Caring for Someone Else? Call Your Concierge

Assistance with home repairs, buying groceries

If there's anyone out there who could use a little help juggling her act, it's a caregiver.

After all, the average caregiver — usually a daughter managing doctors' appointments, the household and finances for an aging parent — is still trying to manage her own 9-to-5 job. There are 61.6 million caregivers, according to the 2011 AARP study "Valuing the Invaluable: The Growing Contributions and Costs of Family Caregiving," and one-third of them described their responsibilities as "highly stressful." No wonder, when you consider that nearly three-fourths of caregivers say their role has caused them to be late for work, take leaves of absence or had other negative impacts on their job performance.

See also: Cost of taking care of Mom and Dad.

Sound familiar? If so, an entire industry — the elder care concierge — has cropped up to help you with this juggling act.

"The senior services segment of the concierge industry is growing lightning fast around the country," says Katharine Giovanni, founder and chairman of the board of the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association (ICLMA). "It's growing because adult children are totally stressed out. You have yourself, your kids, your work — you're managing all these households and you're going crazy."

Elizabeth Swider knows this is true. She is owner of Care Is There, a geriatric care management company in Charlottesville, Va., that offers concierge services to older people, such as bill paying, coordinating home repairs, running errands like buying groceries and assisting with pet care. In nearly all cases, it's an overwhelmed caregiver who seeks out her services. Swider then has to convince the aging adult that there's nothing wrong with getting help.

"Older people have been taught that no matter what the hardship, you do whatever you can to muddle through," Swider says. "But their children want more for them than that. They want Mom or Dad to have a better situation, and ask me to help."

Next: What can a concierge do to lighten a caregiver's load? >>

What can a concierge do to ease the burden?

  • Lighten caregiver's load: In Mesa, Ariz., Debbie Bachler at White Glove Pet and Home Concierge helps clear the caregiver's to-do list by doing her groceries, dry cleaning or post office run, so that she has time to spend with her parents. She also offers elder-sitting services so that the caregiver can go out for an evening or even take a vacation.
  • Help with private matters: "Older adults feel badly about asking their children for things," says concierge Lynn Sudlow of the Complete Errand in West Lebanon, N.H. "And they like their privacy. Clients ask me to do things that she doesn't want to bother her children with."
  • Save you money: Most concierges charge between $25 and $55 an hour, according to the ICLMA, and are even cheaper than that in certain parts of the country. This is a bargain if you consider that the average female caregiver gives up an estimated $324,000 in lost wages, Social Security benefits and pension, according to a 2011 MetLife Mature Market Institute study, when she leaves the workforce early. Nearly one in four employed caregivers finds herself in this scenario, and reports either having stopped working, turned down a promotion, lost benefits or chosen early retirement to meet her responsibilities.

But how do I find one?

Finding someone reputable is of utmost importance. Giovanni recommends the following tips:

  • Screen for concierges who have business liability insurance and do background checks on their employees.
  • When you find candidates you like, ask for references and then call each one. Check on their status with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Use websites such as Yelp to read client reviews of their work.

Also of interest: Limiting overtime for home health care workers. >>

Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families. She lives in New York.

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