If you have a loved one who's getting older but really doesn't want to leave their home, and yet who could use a little help with medical and/or non-medical care, you may be considering starting home care. Care at home can make a big difference to the life of your loved one and your entire family. You can arrange for the precise amount of care your loved one needs — anywhere from a few hours a week to full-time, live-in care — and you can be confident that the caregiver you choose is a good fit for your loved one's needs and personality.
It's likely to take a bit of research to find the right caregiver. You have a few major decisions to make first: Do you want to work with a home care agency or ask friends for referrals? Does your loved one need live-in care?
After you've narrowed down your options, you then need to interview home care agencies (if that's the route you've chosen) and individual caregivers. Take a look at these suggestions for evaluating home care agencies and caregivers.
What Type of Home Care Do You Need?
As you narrow down the type of home care your loved one needs, start with this basic question: Do you need a caregiver who will live in the home and be available 24/7? Or will your loved one be fine with someone who comes in daily or even just a few hours a week?
To make this choice, assess how much care your loved one really needs. Are they safe and comfortable during nighttime hours, or could they run into trouble in the middle of the night? If your loved one is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, they may be prone to waking up at night and to nighttime wandering. In this case, live-in care may be the safest and most practical choice.
If you're not comfortable with that option or don't have anywhere for a live-in caregiver to sleep, consider hiring multiple caregivers who split shifts and work around the clock.
If you opt for a caregiver who's going to come during daytime hours only, you have another question to answer: Does your loved one need medical care, or just help with the Activities of Daily Living? Once you know these answers, you're prepared to start your search for the right caregiver. While you may have the perfect caregiver available through a personal referral, most people need to work with home care agencies to find the right person.
Evaluating Home Care Agencies
To make sure that your loved one stays safe and healthy at home, you need to work with a high-quality home care agency. Feel free to ask every question you have. Here are a few important areas to explore and questions to start with.
How Will the Agency Determine Your Loved One's Needs?
Someone from the home care agency you're considering should conduct a full assessment of your loved one's needs. Optimally, this involves coming to your loved one's home, meeting them in person, and checking out the home environment as part of determining the right level of care. If your loved one has significant medical needs, this initial assessment should be performed by a registered nurse or the equivalent.
What Conduct Does the Home Care Agency Expect of Its Caregivers?
Practical and medical skills are important, of course, but you also want to find a caregiver who displays exemplary character. Because you're inviting the caregiver into your home, you want to find someone who will treat both your loved one and their belongings with respect.
How Are Caregivers Supervised?
Does the home care agency arrange for unscheduled visits to make sure the caregiver is living up to expectations? The supervisor who performs these visits should also be a point person you can contact freely if there are issues you don't want to discuss with your caregiver.
How Will You Communicate With the Agency?
Related to the previous question is the issue of ongoing communication with the home care agency. If you have questions or concerns, will you contact the same person every time, or do you just speak to whoever is manning the phones? You should also ask if you'll be notified of any change in your loved one's condition, since a daily caregiver may pick up on issues that you might not notice yourself.
What Is the Agency's Availability?
Your loved one might need assistance at any time of day or night. Even if you have live-in care, your caregiver might be taken ill or have another emergency on a holiday weekend or at 3 a.m. If this occurs, will you be able to reach the home care agency?
Evaluating Home Care Caregivers
Before you engage an in-home caregiver for your loved one, you'll want to meet them and get a sense of whether they'll be a good fit. Caregivers have an extremely intimate relationship with their clients, and they can become very close emotionally. During your interview, then, you're looking for more than just the professional qualifications and skills needed. You're also looking for someone who's trustworthy and who's a good match in personality for your loved one. Here are some questions to get you started when interviewing prospective caregivers.
What Time Off and Vacation Time Do You Expect?
This question is particularly important if you're hiring a live-in caregiver. If you're working with a senior care agency, they may be able to arrange for substitute caregivers. Ask the caregiver as well about how they'll prepare your loved one for their absence.
What Experience Do You Have With Specific Tasks?
You already have a good idea of the areas in which your loved one needs assistance. Now focus on those areas with the prospective caregiver. Ask them to describe previous clients who needed help with bathing, toileting, dressing, and grooming. Ask what types of food they tend to cook. If you need the caregiver to provide transportation, ask for proof of a clean driving record.
What Will You Do When My Loved One....?
You know your loved one's most negative tendencies. Maybe they become cranky at certain times of the day. You may have seen moments of aggressive or anger. Whatever those negatives are, make sure you bring them up to a prospective caregiver. You want to know how they'll respond when those behaviors surface, and you also don't want a caregiver to quit because they weren't fully informed of what to expect.
Are There Any Services You Won't or Can't Provide?
If you need a caregiver to drive your loved one on errands, you don't want to learn after hiring them that they can't drive after sunset. Go through the full list of services your loved one needs, and make sure none of them pose issues for the prospective caregiver.
How Will You Respond If My Loved One Offers You a Gift?
As seniors become emotionally attached to their caregivers, they often offer them gifts. In many cases, this doesn't become a problem. However, if your loved one forgets that she promised her grandmother's jewelry to her granddaughter, and gives it to the caregiver instead, you could find yourself dealing with some seriously hurt feelings. You have the right to ask the caregiver to refuse any gifts or to ask to approve any gifts your loved one might offer.
Your interview with your caregiver will help you determine if you've found the correct match while also providing the caregiver with the information they need to know whether to accept the position.
If you are looking for more information on some of the common questions associated with home care for seniors, you can read our home care FAQ here.
Review our other articles on home care: