In-Home Care Nurses Help Families Solve Problems, Keep Spirits Up

By Colleen Harvot, Valley VNA Senior Care Director of In-Home Care


I help lead a team that provides in-home care to seniors throughout east central Wisconsin. Julie Fries, RN, and Andrea Hilgers, LPN, our degreed nurses, are the first point-of-contact with all of our in-home care clients. They make the initial visit to meet the family and complete an in-home initial assessment of a client’s needs. Once a relationship is established, we assign caregivers to make regular home visits. However, our nurses remain in constant contact with our staff members and are friendly and willing resources to the families we serve.

Here are some of the questions we get from our families, and a bit of the advice we offer when family members are perplexed about their loved one’s needs or behaviors. It’s invaluable to have nurses on your in-home care team!

Why is this happening?

As people age, their behaviors change in ways that spouses and other family members may not understand. A typically calm and serene person may become anxious or agitated in the midst of cognitive decline because customary routines suddenly become confusing or scary. A person who has always loved to cook may abandon her kitchen entirely. We help explain why these changes are happening and encourage family members to remain open to their person’s need for change. We coach families on how to dampen anxiety and redirect a person’s attention to new engaging activity that better fits their interests and abilities. Family members who accompany their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia will lower stress levels when they “go along for the ride” for a mixed-up conversation or perceived alternate reality. As long as everyone is safe, arguing with a person in this situation will only cause sadness and anxiety—for everyone. We counsel people to embrace change as a fact of life and love anyway.

Do you think I should call the doctor?

In-home care can be provided to any family who requests it, whether they have a doctor’s order or not. A senior keeps his or her own doctor and family members remain the main point of contact for all health-related appointments and activities. However, our nurses are able to contact your doctor if we see something that needs attention. For instance, a senior who contracts a urinary tract infection will have symptoms that our on-site caregivers will recognize. We can report these symptoms to your doctor or suggest that a family member call to discuss the symptoms and probable diagnosis. Many families appreciate “another set of eyes and expertise” in having in-home care nurses on their team.


What do I do about that?

It’s completely understandable that a spouse or child of a senior will get overwhelmed or exasperated when they realize they need help with more aspects of physical, social, or housekeeping tasks. Whenever we hear “Now what do I do about that?” we can usually help find an answer! We make referrals to foot care clinics, where foot care nurses can help soak, file, and trim a senior’s feet. We can arrange for drivers to help with appointments, errands, and shopping. A person can be brought in to help with meal preparation, light housework, and cleaning. We connect families to Meals on Wheels deliveries to access convenient nutritious food and a daily visit from a volunteer. We help arrange for respite care for an evening out, a lunch date, or even a vacation for the primary family caregivers. We take pride in helping families solve problems so they can keep their spirits up.


“We sit in the house all day. We need to get out or see more people.”

Caregiving can be lonely for everyone involved. Lack of mobility or appropriate activities for changing bodies and minds can feed isolation. Our nurses know about activities for our client families at every stage of life, and they are all designed to bring joy and peace. We can connect families to Lyrics and Laughter, a music appreciation class for seniors and their caregivers held at Valley VNA, or arrange for life enrichment activities to become part of our in-home care (think playing cards, building a birdhouse, decorating cookies, or looking at books about WWII). The Therapeutic Home Touch program is designed for men and women in the final stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, many of whom crave a soothing environment. Specially trained caregivers use music, aromatherapy, and massage to reduce agitation—and these effects linger for hours afterwards. That’s a gift for every member of the family!

Julie and Andrea are in constant contact with our caregivers, clients and families. This extra layer of expertise ensures quality care and helps us help families as they strive to do right by the people they love. That should lift your spirits.