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When hiring in-home care, ask questions to determine a good fit

Minding our Elders columnist Carol Bradley Bursack offers a list of FAQs for those considering hiring in-home help for an elderly relative.

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Dear Carol: I’m the sole caregiver for my mom who lives about 20 minutes away from me. I can’t quit working to be with her and she’s adamant about staying in her condo rather than moving to assisted living. I understand why she wants this, and to be realistic, she doesn’t need constant care. What she needs, for now, is help with light housekeeping and companionship, but the ideal caregiving arrangement would include taking her shopping and accompanying her to routine appointments. There are several local agencies and I’d like to interview a few, but I don’t know what questions to ask. Can you give me some guidance? – GL

Dear GL: You’re honoring your mom’s wishes as well as thinking ahead which bodes well for her future care. It sounds as if in-home care would be a great fit for her.

As for the process, not all agencies provide the same services, so I’d suggest that you write a list of priorities. Be prepared with a notebook so you can compare agencies after you’ve made some calls. Most agencies should provide basic information over the phone, but some may require an in-person meeting to explore options. If they seem reluctant to answer direct questions at an agreed-upon time, move on. Keep in mind that if they don’t communicate clearly now, they’re unlikely to do so after you sign on.

Start with the basic questions such as:

  • How long have you been in business? Are you a chain or independently owned? Are your caregivers employees or independent contractors?
  • Are the agency and caregivers licensed and bonded? Do you conduct background checks? How thorough?
  • Do you provide a list of references? Can I check them?
  • Do you have enough staff to cover times when the caregiver is sick or can’t make it for any reason? How do you communicate with clients when changes are necessary?
  • Do you require clients to sign up for blocks of several hours or do you schedule hourly (blocks are more common)?
  • How are your caregivers trained? Any certifications required?
  • Does training include how to work with people living with dementia? With mobility challenges? Do you provide ongoing training?
  • Is an agency owner or administrator available for emergencies outside of business hours?
  • Does your agency have caregivers trained and licensed to provide in-home medical care should that be needed?

This is a start, GL, but there is more to consider. A good resource for you would be caregiver.org/resource/hiring-home-help.

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If you sign your mom up for in-home care, prepare her for the fact that there may be days when her scheduled caregiver can’t be there and the agency must send someone else. Reassure her that in most cases she’ll find the substitute caregivers friendly and helpful. If you or your mom feel that after a trial time the primary caregiver’s personality isn’t a good fit for your mom, work with the agency to see if a change can be made.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblog.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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