Seniors helping seniors

AMSTERDAM – When Ann Quinn, the education coordinator for Home Healthcare Partners in Amsterdam, begins one of her training classes for new recruits for her agency, she often finds herself teaching students nearly as old as some of the agency’s patients.

Quinn is retirement age herself, having worked for Home Healthcare Partners for nearly 20 years. She said over that time she’s seen more and more home health aides and nurses who join the profession after the age of 55.

“They’re often people who’ve finished one career, sometimes it was in healthcare, sometimes not, and they’re still interested in doing things and working with people and helping others and they see the home health aide role as a way to do it,” she said.

As demand for senior services provided by nurses’ aides, home health aides and other such workers grows with the aging of baby boomers, so are those professions’ employment of other seniors. The new face of America’s network of caregivers is increasingly wrinkled.

Among the overall population of direct-care workers, 29 percent are projected to be 55 or older by 2018, up from 22 percent a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, or PHI, a New York-based nonprofit advocating for workers caring for the country’s elderly and disabled. In some segments of the workforce, including personal and home care aides, those 55 and older are the largest single age demographic.

“I think people are surprised that this workforce is as old as it is,” said Abby Marquand, a researcher at PHI. “There’s often people who have chronic disease themselves who have to muster up the energy to perform these really physically taxing caregiving needs.”

Around the country, senior service agencies are seeing a burgeoning share of older workers. About one-third of Home Instead’s 65,000 caregivers are older than 60. Visiting Angels, another in-home care provider, says about 30 percent of its workers are over 50. And at least one network, Seniors Helping Seniors, is built entirely on the model of hiring older caregivers.

Home Healthcare Partners Executive Director Karen Clark said about 50 percent of her 100 member workforce is aged 55 or older. She said her agency usually serves between 80 and 100 clients in eight different counties, most of them in Fulton and Montgomery counties. She said about 90 percent of her employees are either certified home health aides, or licensed practical nurses or registered nurses and are typically paid at a per diem rate.

“That 55 and older population bring so much life experience to the table,” Clark said. “They most likely have already been care-givers, whether it’s professionally or personally in a variety of different situations. They are hardworkers who just have a depth to their life experience that you can only get through life experience.”

Like most occupations, some of the growth in older caregivers is driven by the overall aging of the population and the trend of people working later in life. But with incredibly high rates of turnover and a constant need for more workers, home care agencies have also shown a willingness to hire older people new to the field who have found a tough job market as they try to supplement their retirement income.

Quinn said home healthcare givers need to be prepared to help clients who are mostly elderly and need assistance taking showers, getting dressed, walking, shopping, helping them with getting oxygen or other medical issues. She said sometimes clients request home health aides who are simply good cooks.

“Sometimes they think an older worker will be able to cook the kinds of foods that they like, perhaps,” Quinn said. “There is certainly a difference in the maturity level of a 60-year-old versus a 20-year-old. One of the important things that we see is that the older caregivers share their histories with the clients. For example the type of schools they went to, the types of jobs; that kind of thing.”

Home Healthcare Partners, which is affiliated with Nathan Littauer Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital, is one of a growing number of home healthcare providers who are providing services locally and throughout the region. A list of home healthcare providers is available at

Clark said she believes there is a steady need for the services her agency provides, and that older workers are a key part of filling that need.

“More and more people are looking for health at home, wheather it’s short term or longtime,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.