Eva Walston having lunch with Linda Owens, mother of college friend Angela Owens, at her assisted living facility. (Credit: Barb Twaite)

According to Human Rights Watch, referring to a report on ageism and age discrimination by the UN Independent Expert on the rights of older people worldwide, “ageism is so pervasion that discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of older people is the norm.”

It’s no secret that elderly people can be cranky, forgetful and sometimes even annoying. They can be physically challenging too. The list of deteriorating physical and mental conditions is almost endless. 

Since we’re all going to be old someday, we often treat aging with humor. Birthday cards outright ridicule old people, and you can’t find many comedians who don’t have at least a few unflattering jokes about them. 

The days when we revered the elderly are long gone. Being old is not cool. Looking old is even worse. The market is full of costly anti-aging products. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent nearly $16.7 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2020. 

So, what happens when you have an elderly parent who needs a little extra attention that you can’t provide because of career or other family obligations? Whether your loved one is aging in place or at an assisted living facility, you may need help to ensure their needs are being met. How do you find a caretaker you can trust to treat your loved one compassionately and respectfully? How do you find someone who actually likes old people?

At a recent Christmas party in an upscale Sandy Springs neighborhood, I met that someone. Her name is Eva Walston, and she beamed as she told me of her new job as a companion to the elderly. Her employer is Naborforce, which entered the Atlanta market last April and calls itself “backup sons and daughters.” Its concept is neighbors helping neighbors, paired by vicinity and mutual interests. 

Nabors are companions, not caregivers. They have no medical training, don’t wear uniforms and don’t administer meds, bathe, dress, feed or houseclean. They provide short periods of quality time, with activities ranging from light meal prep to running errands, taking walks, watching TV and listening to memories from the past. Mainly, they simply like older adults.

“It’s like what used to happen in the old days,” said Paige Vohs, the Atlanta Naborhood lead. “The neighbor down the street would help.”

Naborforce is an app-based service based. Once a client, usually an adult child, and the older adult have met and chosen their Nabor, clients book their Nabors online using the app. The cost is $30-35 per hour with a one-hour minimum with monthly discounts for ongoing bookings.

Nabor Eva Walston is married, has two adult children, lives in a beautiful home, and has a master’s degree in counseling. Obviously, she didn’t join Naborforce for the money.

According to Vohs, she’s the ideal Nabor.

“She has the time, wants to give back and loves the connections,” said Vohs. “The clients love her, and she loves them.”

Naborforce attracts its Nabors and clients mainly through word of mouth. Walston learned about Naborforce from a friend who owns a home healthcare company. 

“He knew I was looking for something with purpose,” she said. “When he explained Naborforce to me, I got it.”

Like the company founder and Vohs, Eva had had personal experience dealing with an aging parent with no backup. During the pandemic, she cared for her own mother for three months, taking her for dialysis three days a week until she came to live with her in hospice and passed away 25 days later. 

“Naborforce is a way for me to honor my mom,” she said. “For me, it comes from a place of wanting to bring a little joy to someone.”

Eva’s average client is a man or a woman in their late 80s, the ages her parents would be if they were still alive. Some have mobility or short-term memory issues. One is the mother of Angela Owens, a college friend. Angela’s mother has dementia and lives in assisted living. Angela visits her every day. Eva gives her a break a couple of times a week. 

Owens is an only child and worries about her mother: “Are people kind to her? Is anything falling through the cracks?”

Eva takes her for walks, makes sure she stays hydrated, is wearing fresh clothes and engages her in conversation “so Mom isn’t sitting in her room getting depressed.”

Another client is 93-year-old Trudy, who was upset that her assisted living facility wouldn’t let her have an iron. Eva got permission for her to have her iron under supervision. When Eva visits, they iron.

“She was thrilled to have ironed clothes again,” said Eva. 

Sometimes it’s the senior who books Eva. One such client is Hilda, age 77, who has lived with lung cancer for two years and whose husband has Parkinson’s. Her kids live locally but are busy with careers. She needed help decorating her home for Christmas. 

“I spent three hours decorating her house,” said Eva. “We laughed and talked. I’ll probably go back to undecorate and help her clean out her closets.”

The job is sometimes not joyful. Marge, of whom she was very fond, passed away recently at age 89. 

“Eva was a ray of sunshine,” said Cathy Pennington, Marge’s daughter-in-law.  “They talked about Florida and the University of Florida [the school attended by both Marge and Eva’s own son]. Eva wore a University of Florida t-shirt. No two visits were the same.”

Naborforce is now available throughout the Atlanta metro area. Anyone interested in becoming a Nabor or booking one should go to https://naborforce.com.

To would-be Nabors, Eva offers this advice: “You just have to like old people. If you don’t, this is not the job for you. If you do and want a flexible work situation, it might be a great fit.”

Regular contributor Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant and writes about people making a difference in our little corner of the world. If you know someone "worth knowing," email her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com