(Change Location)

Sep 27, 2022

Care Professional of the Year - 2022

Written By: Home Instead of Silver Spring
Elizabeth A Cropped 1

Elizabeth A. has spent most of her life taking care of people. She has been a mother, a wife, a babysitter, and a nursing home aid. And now she is the 2022 Care Professional of the Year for the Silver Spring, MD−based office of Home Instead.

So it would seem that opening a costume jewelry store would be an unusual choice for Elizabeth, something she did several years ago in Wheaton, MD. But for Elizabeth, her store was just another way of taking care of people. “When I saw my customers try on jewelry for their weddings, it made me happy to see them excited and looking pretty,” Elizabeth says.

Making people happy is what makes Elizabeth happy, whether that person is a young bride in a store or an elderly person in his home. And right now, Elizabeth is happy in her job as a Home Instead Care Pro. “I love taking care of people,” she says. “When I show up and they say, ‘Thank God you’re here,’ that makes me happy.”

A Time of Transition

Elizabeth closed her Wheaton, MD, jewelry store about seven years ago, a period of big change in her life. She was going through a difficult divorce, after many years of marriage. It was around this time she landed at Home Instead.

Elizabeth’s 12 years working at a nursing home in Olney, MD, her job before the jewelry store, was great preparation for her job as a Care Pro at Home Instead. But she prefers Home Instead over nursing-home work. “At a nursing home, you’re interacting with many seniors, and you don’t have a lot of time to mingle with them,” she says. “I like this job better, because I can spend one-on-one, quality time with my clients.”

In a recent interview, Elizabeth repeated several times how much she enjoys her job. “I love my clients, and they love me,” says Elizabeth. “We talk and laugh together. I try to treat them like my own mom and dad.”

“Every client Elizabeth works with has really liked her a lot,” says Diana M., Home Instead’s client services manager. “Families trust her with their loved ones. Her pleasant and positive attitude is infectious.”

Alison, the daughter of one of Elizabeth’s seniors, is one of those happy Home Instead clients. “My mother is a tough cookie, but Elizabeth found a way to give her respect and attention, without sacrificing best practices,” says Alison, who praises Elizabeth’s patience and ability to understand her clients’ idiosyncrasies. “We wouldn't have gotten through this period of change with my mother without Elizabeth's loving spirit, and we are so happy she is part of our lives.”

Diana also prizes Elizabeth’s loyalty and hard-working nature. During Covid, many caregivers stopped working out of fear of the virus. Elizabeth continued to work long hours in a nursing home, taking care of her long-term client and sometimes staying late if needed, even though many people around her were contracting the virus. “Elizabeth was very dependable,” Diana says. “We can’t thank her enough for pushing through those difficult times!”

Accumulated Wisdom

With nearly 20 years of experience working with the elderly, Elizabeth has had plenty of time to learn techniques that help her handle the challenges of senior care, and, as a result, she has many words of wisdom to share with her fellow Care Pros.

One of her biggest pieces of advice is to “get to know your clients,” she says. “It makes the job so much easier.”

Another tip, according to Elizabeth, is to “give the client some space.” Elizabeth learned this years ago when she took care of her ex-husband after breaking both his legs. “He was upset by his limitations,” she says. “I sometimes needed to give him space to cool down.”

Patience is a very important quality to have as a caregiver, as is not taking things too personally, Elizabeth notes. “When people have dementia, they sometimes scream and say mean things,” she says. “One time, someone with dementia told me not to walk on her carpet. It’s not her fault—the dementia makes her say those things.”

Sometimes, Elizabeth uses little tricks to get her clients to cooperate and keep them engaged. For instance, a client who is reluctant to eat might be motivated to do so when Elizabeth offers to split a sandwich with her: “If I eat one half, can you eat the other?” And when she does her clients’ laundry, she folds each item of clothing with them. “It gives them something to do. It’s fun for them,” she explains.

Elizabeth has found that “yes” often works better than “no” in certain situations, even if “no” is the more sensible answer. For instance, she says, if a senior wants to make a meal for herself, Elizabeth might let her, but will keep a close on eye on her to make sure she stays safe. Or when a senior with dementia wants to do something that is not realistic, a “no” will make the person upset. But if Elizabeth says “yes, we can do that in a bit,” the senior often forgets later what she asked for.

It's also good to present clients with options of things to do and let them choose, as it gives them a sense of control over their day. But because seniors with dementia sometimes don’t have a good sense of time, Elizabeth says you may have to explain to them what they can and can’t do. For example: “If you want to go for a ride, we need to go soon, or you’ll miss lunch.”

It’s important for Care Pros to be alert for potential health and safety issues, and this is an area where Elizabeth excels. “Elizabeth is great about communicating any issues that put her clients at risk,” Diana says. More than once, Elizabeth has taken the initiative to get her clients medical attention for issues like urinary tract infections and uncut toenails. Working with the Home Instead office or clients’ family members, Elizabeth “helps set up doctor appointments, and she takes her clients to the appointments,” Diana says.

Other Interests and Looking Ahead

As much as Elizabeth loves caregiving, she has many other interests. She loves taking long walks, something she does three or four times a week. She also has a deep appreciation for music, particularly Christian music. Bed before Covid, she spent many years singing in her church choir, sometimes as a soloist.

Elizabeth’s faith is essential to her. “I try to put everything in the Lord’s hands,” she says. “It helps me stay calm with caregiving. It makes me more patient.” She especially leaned on her church during her divorce.

Family is also important to Elizabeth, particularly her three adult daughters. The oldest works as a teacher, the middle one as a health researcher, and the youngest as an interior designer.

At age 62, Elizabeth has no plans to retire any time soon. But she already has some hopes and dreams for that next period of life. She wants to someday return to the jewelry business, selling at flea markets. (With that venture in mind, she’s even saved some excess inventory from her former store.) She plans to stay in Montgomery County, where she has lived since she arrived here from West Africa as a young bride. But in retirement, she wants to be able to visit her large extended family in Africa for a couple of months every year.

Reflecting on the elderly in Africa, she believes that there is not as much dementia there as there is in the States. “I think it’s because in Africa, family and friends are around all the time, so the elderly don’t get lonely,” she says. For her clients, Elizabeth has become like family, and because of her loving care and steady presence, loneliness is one less thing they have to worry about.