What’s recommended when looking for an in-home caregiver?

There are several groups that can give you a list of private-duty agencies that provide in-home care in your area, including: the Alzheimer’s Association, your Area Agency on Aging, Department on Aging, and Social and Rehabilitation Services. You can find a wide range of abilities and offerings, from aides to sitters and homemakers. They can perform specific or general duties.

If you need skilled care or a nurse for something specific, you should contact a home health agency, or speak with a local healthcare provider such as a skilled nursing facility or hospital, which might have referral groups or divisions that they themselves operate. Typically, a physician must be involved when setting up skilled services. This encompasses any nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy or similar services. So check with the physician’s office for more referrals. Another great place to find information and referrals is through fellow members of a caregivers’ support group you might be a part of.

You also can attempt to hire an individual on your own. There are many individuals who work independent of any agency. But quality varies and while you should screen any direct caregiver or therapist, you must really check out any individual you might hire on your own to provide in-home care. Groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association have lists of individuals for hire but they typically will pass along only feedback they have received about caregivers, and not make recommendations. There are many variables involved, so you need to take appropriate caution during this process.

You must treat this as what it is: a business or employee-employer relationship. Use an application form, even something generic like those that can be found at office supply stores. Obtain a copy of valid identification cards, such as a driver’s license, Social Security card and anything else that might indicate stability and training, such as a certificate for nurse-aide training. Since we’ve established this is an employee-employer relationship, ask for a resume and references. Any reputable caregiver will have them and be glad to give them to you.

Interview more than one candidate. It’s the only appropriate thing to do, unless you are under extremely odd circumstances. Schedule a time when each candidate can spend some time with your loved one in his or her living setting. Notice how the two interact. Is your loved one comfortable with this person? Be sure to include your loved one in the process. It’s widely observed that individuals with dementia seem to have a “sixth sense,” so to speak, about judging people. So be sure to let your loved one have a say before you make a hiring decision.

You might need to hire a certified nurse aide (C.N.A.). They take care of basic but important tasks such as bathing, dressing, feeding and administering medications on time, in the proper quantities, etc. They must undergo a significant number of hours of formal training and typically have experience dealing with individuals with Alzheimer’s. Another thing you’ll want from your caregiver is proof of CPR training. Get a copy of their certification.

Once you have hired someone, the process isn’t over. Keep good records, including identification slips, background check results, copies of certifications, etc. Make sure your new employee is appropriately oriented to your house — and to any special needs or preferences your loved one has. Give detailed instructions about routines since people with Alzheimer’s seem to do better with familiar patterns of activity. Suggest activities and interests your loved one enjoys so the caregiver can get started on incorporating those, or expanding upon them as possible.

Nurse aides also can help with chores around the home, such as cleaning or cooking. But if that is all you will have them do, then hiring a homemaker specifically for these tasks would probably be a better, more economical idea.

Realize that, in some states, paying an individual to take care of your loved one (with proper care contracts in place) might cause Medicaid eligibility issues. You should consult an elder law attorney to be clear on this.