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Kim Fromolz wasn't exactly whom Dorothy Dunham had in mind for a live-in companion.

First of all, a 23-year-old seemed just too young.

Dunham, an 82-year-old resident of Heritage Harbor retirement community in Annapolis, couldn't imagine what the two of them would talkabout.

Besides, she wondered, what would someone barely out of her teens know about helping an elderly woman from hour to hour, day after day?

After two other companions older than Fromolz came and went, Dunham concluded that "Age has nothing to do with it."

"I hadn't considered her in the first place because of her age," said Dunham, who hit it off with Fromolz right away.

Fromolz, who'd been working in a nursing home in her hometown of Waupun, Wis., cooks three meals a day, grocery shops and runs errands for her elder roommate. Shehas worked out a routine in which she finishes most of the houseworkin the morning and keeps afternoons for herself. So far, she's occupied her time with movies, shopping and exploring Annapolis. This fall, she plans to work on a nursing degree at Anne Arundel Community College.

Dunham never has to worry about meals, getting medication orbeing alone when she needs help.

In exchange, Fromolz gets Dunham's company and a change that allows her to see another part of the country. Her bedroom is the converted den in Dunham's one-story town house.

The arrangement was made through Companion Care, a new live-in companion placement service for elderly and offshoot of the Annapolis-based A Perfect Nanny search service.

Dee Zarnowski, one of twopartners in A Perfect Nanny, stresses that the arrangement works only for elderly who do not require medical care. She says she believes it will become more common, especially as people live longer and can't drive, fix meals or groom themselves.

"The idea is for them to maintain their independence," she said.

Dunham, who contracted lupus five years ago but could care for herself until earlier this year, had decided to heed her doctor's advice and look for help. She no longer could keep house, shop or cook for herself.

Her son and daughter, who live nearby, agreed that in-home care was best for their mother, who abhorred the thought of a nursing home and wanted to stay in her own house.

Dunham's first choice was a displaced homemaker in her 40s. But the woman became homesick and lonely and returned home. A second woman agreed to the job, then declined, on a doctor's advice.

Zarnowski finally reviewed the applicants and gave Dunham Fromolz's letter and phone number.

After several phone conversations, Dunham asked Fromolz to work for her. The young woman packed her bags and moved in.

Companion Care costs families about $20,000 the firstyear, including application and placement fee, room and board and salary. Nursing home care generally costs between $30,000 and $80,000 per year for 24-hour care in a shared room, Zarnowski said.

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