Selene Montez never expected to have a career in caregiving. In fact, she didn’t spend much time around elderly people, including her grandparents, while growing up. Her grandparents didn’t live in California like she did. At age 16, however, Montez volunteered with elderly members of her church. Working with older members of her community was eye opening; she began to realize how often older people are overlooked, and it didn’t seem right to her. Not long after, one of Montez’s elderly neighbors became a ward of the state. Montez visited her at a nursing home, and seeing her in that environment broke Montez’s heart.
Not long after Montez graduated from high school, Right at Home Desert Cities hired her to work as a caregiver for a client with dementia.
“I didn’t have any sort of formal training, but I had so much hands-on experience by age 20,” recalls Montez. “Working with a client who had dementia was a little shocking to me at first because I had to repeat myself a lot and manage the client’s moods, which could shift quickly. I initially thought I had done something to upset the client, but I bought a book to learn more about dementia and started meditating regularly to help me navigate the caregiving situation.”
While she may be self-taught, Montez is a truly exceptional caregiver. As a result, she was named Right at Home’s 2019 West Region Caregiver of the Year.
A Winning Approach to Clients With Dementia
Part of what sets Montez apart from other caregivers is her absolute dedication to her job and her clients’ emotional and mental well-being. Montez has been with one client with Alzheimer’s disease for over four years and accompanied her on two cross-country trips from California to New York for her granddaughter’s bat mitzvahs.
“This last trip was a tough one,” says Montez. “My client had broken her hip earlier in the year, and it took a toll on her physical and mental health, but I really wanted her to be with her family and watch her younger granddaughter become a bat mitzvah.”
The long plane ride was the biggest challenge, especially since other passengers expressed annoyance at some of the disruptions during the flight.
“Many people are just not tolerant of behavior they don’t understand,” says Montez. “It was a difficult journey — my client was confused by all the changes and strange people, but once we stepped into the synagogue, she was transformed. She came alive during the service, singing and seeming happy and animated, which was so wonderful to watch.”
Montez empathizes with her client and understands that the version of her that people see now is not who she was for most of her life.
“My client is a fascinating person, who had a fascinating life,” Montez says. “As a woman born in the 1930s, she graduated from college, owned a clothing store and eventually owned art galleries — those were harder things to accomplish back then. It can be so easy for people to overlook that because of her condition now, but that’s who I try to see, even in her darkest moments.”
Driven by Heart and Meditation
Although the trip to New York with her client was taxing at times, Montez was honored to be able to create happy memories for her client and her family. When asked about how she managed five full days of round-the-clock work, Montez doesn’t even pause before responding: “Caregiving is a mental and emotional job — you need to have the heart for it and be willing to dedicate your time and patience to your clients. I also recommend meditation.”
Montez credits regular meditation with providing her the ability to center herself in both her personal and professional lives.
“Meditating has really helped me relax,” says Montez. “I have high standards of care for my clients, and meditation helps me let go of the need to be perfect. It’s also really draining to provide care for patients with Alzheimer’s. I sit and meditate in my car before I go into a client’s house, and as soon as I leave my car, I leave my life behind and dedicate all of my attention to my client.”
After leaving work, she will meditate again to re-center herself before going home to her husband or seeing friends. It’s her own way of not taking work home with her, and vice versa. Meditation allows Montez to be present in every situation, helping her to be a better wife, friend and caregiver.
Although she feels validated by her client’s satisfaction with her work, winning the West Region Caregiver of the Year award provided Montez with the confirmation she needed that her hard work is valuable to others, especially her Right at Home family.
“Caregiving can be a lonely job because you don’t see co-workers regularly, so the award made me feel proud and more connected to the job,” says Montez. “I’ve sort of grown up with Right at Home — Dan and Elaine Fox (the owners) hired me when I was just 19 years old. Right at Home has been such a huge part of my life. It felt great to be noticed and recognized for my hard work.”
Montez doesn’t think the award will change the way she approaches her work with clients. She still feels that everyone should be treated the same way they would want to be treated: with kindness, patience, and love.