Speaking from Experience: Advice for Hiring Caregivers for an Elderly Parent

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When the tides turn and you become the one responsible for the care of an elderly parent or family member, you will need to develop a plan of care. That plan may include hiring a day-to-day caregiver. Finding the right match for your elderly parent, aunt or uncle can be challenging – and overwhelming. If you Google the topic “Elder Care” you will be inundated with hundreds of links to “experts” giving you tips on what to look for on a resume, what questions to ask the caregiver in an interview, etc. And while there are many worthwhile objective tips out there, the best tip one can give you is lead with your heart and go with your gut.

Choose Someone Who Respects Your Loved One

Understand that you are the primary caregiver in the situation. You will be the one to make decisions and give direction to the day-to-day caregiver. It is important that a caregiver understand that the elderly person that they are charged to care for was once an independent person and quite probably a caregiver themselves. And as one gets old it does not mean that they must lose their dignity. A caregiver has to respect the person that they are hired to care for. The caregiver needs to recognize that even those that are infirm of mind and/or infirm of body still have moments when they assert themselves because deep down they remember that independence. Making the elderly a part of decisions made on their behalf is important from the get go, both for you as the primary caregiver and for the person you hire to help you. It must be horrible to lose your independence and a say in your own life.

Prior Experience Need Not Be Narrowly Defined

So what do you look for? A common theme running through most articles on the matter seems to have you ask questions regarding prior experience with the elderly. While that can definitely be a plus to finding someone to care for your aging family member, anyone that has cared for any other human being – a parent, a child, a grandparent – has an understanding of what type of giving is needed. So “prior experience” for your situation can take many forms.

How Important Are Age and Training?

The age of the caregiver can sometimes be a determining factor in the decision making process. It is not to say that young caregivers can’t be a good fit. Again it depends on their past caregiving experience. Formal “schooling” or “training” in some instances may be needed (such as where medication has to be dispensed), but do not rely on the “training” that many caregiver agencies give, which is little to none and focused on procedures centered really around not being sued more than keeping your Mom or Dad safe.

Caregiver Must Be Proactive Yet Diplomatic

Being present and watching the interaction between the caregiver and your elderly parent is a necessity. The caregiver needs to be pro-active in keeping the elderly busy. You need a caregiver who is a self starter. One that will pick up a deck of cards or insist that they go out for a walk. Sitting and waiting for instructions is not what you want. And there is a fine line between a gentle nudge and a dictatorship in the mind of the elderly. Tact and diplomacy are important.

Providing Proper Instructions, Guidance and Employment Information

Making lists of do’s and don’t – such as food limitations – is also a necessity. Giving the caregiver access to you when they need your guidance and help shows respect for not only what they are doing but for they themselves, who are there to help you as much as the elderly person they are hired to help care for. Being clear on their responsibilities is important from the get go.

Also remember that at the core of this partnering is a business relationship: you are the employer and the caregiver the employee. So also be clear on hours, rate, vacation time, etc. Calling in sick is inevitable so have a back up plan.

There is a saying: patience is a companion of wisdom. This is never more true than in dealing with the elderly. But it is also true for those searching for a caregiver: be patient; the right fit will come along. And when that happens it will be worth the wait.

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