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In most circles, the notion of in-home care refers to live-in nurses to help elders who aren't capable of helping themselves. Across the county, however, a handful of organizations are providing a different kind of in-home help — assistance to match seniors who need help with everyday chores such as chauffeuring trips to the supermarket, balancing checkbooks, even cleaning up the backyard, to name a few.

These options redefine the age-old notion of personal assistant, freeing seniors from some of the most formidable stressors of old age and therefore enabling them to live healthier lives.

"It doesn't matter if they're sick or healthy; anything that helps improve (seniors') quality of life, it's a step in the right direction," says Albert DeSilver, director and CEO of Santa Rosa-based Visiting Angels Senior Home Care & Respite, one of the service providers in the market. "We're here to make their lives easier."

Visiting Angels is one of a handful of local organizations that offers in-home help. Some of the others are the Council on Aging, and the Adult and Aging Services division of the County's Human Services department.

Levels of care available from each of these organizations differ considerably.

At Visiting Angels, which boasts a licensed clinical social worker on staff and provides in-home care for seniors with a variety of health conditions, services for healthy clients range from basic companionship to changing linens, cleaning, garbage and similar domestic chores.

The same sorts of options are available from the Council on Aging.

Caregivers affiliated with this group provide everything from dog-walking to money management, during which helpers might assist with paying bills or balancing a checkbook. In some cases, the group also provides meals; President and CEO Marrianne McBride said the Council serves about 1,000 meals a day.

The Council also offers a volunteer transportation service for seniors who are no longer able to drive. Through this offering, younger people volunteer to chauffer their elders around town. Volunteers have been known to take clients all the way to San Francisco and beyond.

"When we hire gardeners and housekeepers, we don't hesitate to engage the kinds of help that will make our lives easier," McBride said. "It shouldn't be any different for seniors."

County services — administered by the Adult & Aging Services division of the Human Services Department — are considerably more limited, and comprise very little beyond basic chores such as cleaning and transportation.

Costs of these different services vary.

Because the county provides services only to seniors with incomes below a certain threshold, clients generally don't have to pay anything (beyond what they might pay in annual taxes).

At the Council on Aging, pay structures differ considerably. According to McBride, an initial consultation — the "case management" visit — always is free. From there, fees differ depending on activity and a senior's financial situation (the car rides, for instance, always incorporate a "coordination charge" that starts at $10 per trip).

Furthermore, McBride noted that those who have designated the Council as a "Representative Payee" through Social Security also don't have to pay for money management. (Instead, the federal government foots the bill).

At Visiting Angels, clients pay per hour; the rate usually runs between $15 and $30. Because this organization is considered "non-medical," services from this organization are almost never covered under insurance. DeSilver did say that some private long-term care policies occasionally will cover a portion of the costs.

Healthy local seniors have access to a variety of different kinds of advisory resources, too.

First, radio deejay Kira Reginato shares information about in-home assistance on her weekly radio show, "The Elder Care Show." on KSRO AM 1350 at on Fridays from 12:30-1 p.m.

What's more, the Sonoma County Section on Aging — a consortium of local government, nonprofit and for-profit organizations — hosts monthly meetings that are open to the public, and frequently brings in speakers to talk on the subject of aging with grace.

Meetings are held 8:45 to 10:30a.m., on the third Wednesday of every month. The next meeting is Aug. 17. For more information, visit www.sonomacountysoa.org.