AUSTIN, Texas — John Perry loves going on long walks around his South Austin neighborhood. But it’s not something he can do alone.
Perry, who will be 74 in November, has been diagnosed with dementia, likely caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
His weekdays are spent at an adult day care. On weekends, his family relies on caregiving services.
“Mr. Perry, I would describe as a very energetic and extroverted person,” Sarayu Bodduluri said. “He loves going to the park, coffee shops and just meeting and talking to new people.”
Bodduluri is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin and is Perry’s caregiver. She is a Health and Society major at UT.
“At its core, Health and Society really focuses on some of the social factors that affect health care,” Bodduluri said. “Understanding these demographic factors and going out and helping in those areas is really important.”
CareYaya Health Technologies connected Bodduluri to the Perry family. The caregiving registry is based in North Carolina and was co-founded by Neal Shah.
“I think we can build something better,” Shah said, referencing what inspired him to build the registry.
Shah says he experienced how caregiving responsibilities completely changed lives of his family members in consecutive years.
“My grandfather went through severe illness — dementia diagnosis, kidney failure, dialysis and then cancer care,” Shah said.
Shah’s mother left her career to take care of his grandfather. Later, his wife became severely ill with cancer and was placed in a medical coma at one point.
“I experienced the same problem firsthand,” Shah said. “It was very difficult to interact with the care industry, the reliability and the quality of care available was fairly poor.”
Shah wants to transform the way care is delivered in the U.S.
“It’s a health equity issue or care equity issue, as we call where 85% to 90% of families are priced out of affordability. Then the caregivers are barely making sustenance wages so anyone who can get out of the industry gets out,” Shah said.
The national average for home health and personal care aides is $14.51 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Texas Legislature just recently raised the minimum wage for those workers in the state to $10.60.
CareYaya starts its aides at $15 an hour, but students are paid directly from the families they support.
“The caregivers can get higher wages, the family can pay much less,” Shah said.
On average, Texas families pay caregivers $24 an hour according to a 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey.
CareYaya runs off support from local universities, government, health systems and employers, according to its website. Only 20% of caregivers who apply are accepted on the platform and must pass background checks and interviews.
Shah anticipates CareYaya will spread to other universities across Texas and be able to connect more families to student caregivers.
“I think this is really training young people to become much more empathetic physicians, nurses and overall clinical health care workers,” he said.
The income is a positive for Bodduluri as she is a full-time student but she’s finding more value in learning about the patient care experience.
“I’m hoping to be a physician. That’s my main goal,” she said.