Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Looking after the elderly

For this month’s topic, we found something interesting: 70% of those surveyed have not had to care for/supervise the care of, elderly principals. 10% declined to comment for fear of breaking confidentiality, which left 20% who had something to share on the subject. We provide their feedback in full.

“During my fifteen years in private service, I have had the distinct pleasure of spending nine of those years in the service of three different patriarchs as their personal aide. Interestingly enough, my service began while these men were entering their late seventies and with my service ending roughly one year before their passing, which occurred during their early eighties.  Two of my principals slowly lost their physical abilities, while the other lost control of his mental faculties. Shortly before their demise, I was replaced by a professional nursing staff.

“In each of these cases, my role was to assist the individual with normal daily activities, such as dressing, driving, and running errands. I was asked to remain in very close personal proximity at all times, to assist with walking and to prevent falls.

“All of them enjoyed my companionship in the beginning and appreciated my service, but over time, a slow degradation of attitude towards me as well as life in general became apparent.  Eventually, in each case, I became a target of their frustration as a result of their life circumstances and my immediate proximity to their person. I was demeaned and cursed; I had household items thrown at me and even was accused of wife stealing (!) Knowing these people when they enjoyed good health and then attending to them in poor health, was a challenge that the weak of heart probably would not survive. I eventually did learn how to survive this circle of life.

“Before accepting a position as an aide to an elderly principal, you must be knowledgeable concerning the expectations for that individual’s health—do your homework and know what you are walking into. To succeed, be of good spirit and maintain a positive attitude. You need to be tough-skinned: If your feelings and emotions are easily bruised, you had better pursue different employment or opportunities. Having started in such a position, my advice is that you a) obtain a letter of recommendation while the opportunity still exists, and b) be prepared to lose your job!” LW

The other professional offered the following:

“In 2004, I held a position as a live-in caregiver for a family I had worked with previously for ten years. The principal was 84-years old and had Alzheimer’s. None of us knew what we were doing, so I studied the disease online to learn as much as possible and attended caregiver meetings that were offered locally.

“I treated the principal with dignity and respect; he was not happy that I was in his home, cooking, cleaning, setting up appointments, and doing the laundry. We ran errands together, enjoyed daily walks in the park to feed the turtles; in the evenings, I would drop him off for dinner at his girlfriend’s house. The family had taken his car away from him, so he resented me driving his car everywhere, including to the theater or to events at the University where he was a highly regarded Professor. There can be lots of physical care for the elderly: as a example, their skin is fragile so one must keep one’s fingernails short. Constant vigilance is needed, safety and personal hygiene are important.

“In the beginning, it was a challenge to avoid being hit. So I devised a plan whereby I told him that I was a graduate student at the University and he was renting me a room. The family sent me a check every month so I could pay him rent. He loved that I was so helpful and he offered to sell me his car, so I didn’t need to walk. Again, the ‘power of attorney’ sent me a check to give to the principal to purchase his vehicle. Soon after, the Professor said that I did so much work around the house that he wasn’t going to charge me rent anymore. Obviously, the family was thrilled and stopped sending the rent checks. Kind of a complicated story but, I would say goodbye to him after breakfast, he would wave at me, turn to go back in the house and I would walk around the back yard and come back into the house that way. Acting like I was just getting out of class. We would talk about my pretend courses and all went well. We were ‘roommates’ for 3 years until his family decided he needed a facility for his special needs.

“I had another Alzheimer’s client, which turned out to be a very similar experience—the family had taken away his car. Of course he was mad about that, but I reassured him that my driving his Jaguar around town with him in the passenger seat would look like he had a young female companion. That seemed to work, since he would be waving at people (he was a respected heart surgeon in the area) and teasing me about the fact that he had a beautiful girl driving his car.

“What I found to be successful was not arguing or trying to reason with an Alzheimer’s client; instead, guide the conversation and actions toward the desired results. The stove needed to be unplugged, the microwave and toaster, too. All sharp knives were hidden. I had baby monitors hidden around the house so I could hear what was going on. I also unplugged the phone at night, since he was into calling people after midnight. Plus, I attended conferences regarding the disease and continued to research the needs of my client. I also made sure I had competent help.

“Last year I took a Nursing Assistant course, to help with my current position, since some of the visitors are elderly and need help arising from the dinner table or climbing in and out of their vehicles. One needs to be patient and kind, understanding and able to listen. It is difficult to sit and talk when one has a phenomenal amount of work to complete, but giving someone one’s undivided attention for a short while will make them feel fantastic. Love your job and understand that they may use derogatory statements and verbiage from a different era.” DS

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.