A hospice nurse once told my patient’s husband, “We lose more caregivers than patients.” Of course, she was referring to the unpaid kind, the husbands, wives, kids and other loved ones who care for patients with dementia for free and with little hope of reward beyond the knowledge that the patient’s needs are met.
A family’s contributions are invaluable at a time like this, but at some point, you’ll need additional help.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Hire a Caregiver?
I’ve heard it said that if you’re asking this question, the answer is “you need help now.” It’s usually the need that prompts the inquiry.
If the patient’s primary caregiver is an elderly spouse, you need help. If the patient cannot be left alone, you need help. If the patient can no longer do simple things for herself, like eating, going to the restroom or getting dressed, you need help.
If you’re exhausted, and are beginning to wonder how much longer you can continue to care for the patient on your own, you really, really need help.
Hiring the Right Caregiver
The first step in hiring the right caregiver for your family is to write down everything you expect the attendant to do for the patient. Be as detailed as possible. If you want the caregiver to do “light housekeeping” what tasks does that include? Most caregiver job postings ask for this, but people have wildly different ideas of what this entails.
If you want the caregiver to provide companionship, think through what this means to you and the patient. Does she enjoy reading (or being read to), music, card games or TV?
Treat It Like a Real Job Interview
After all, that’s exactly what it is. Think about the kinds of scenarios that may come up, and ask questions about how the caregiver would handle those situations. For example: “What would you do if Mother seemed uncomfortable, but it wasn’t time for her pain medication yet?” or “How would you handle it if Mother wanted to leave the house?”
Make Sure You’re on the Same Page
Be sure to communicate your philosophy about how to handle the patient’s care with any potential caregivers. Do you feel it’s important to offer message therapy, topical ointments or other treatments in addition to or instead of oral pain killers? How often should the patient be taken to the bathroom or fed? How often do you expect an invalid to be moved?
If the candidate seems unsure of or uncomfortable with your routines, it’s best to move on.
It’s the Intangibles that Count
Think about how you want your loved one to be treated and observe the caregivers you interview carefully. If she seems impatient with you, how will she cope with a patient who asks the same questions over and over again?
Follow Up Appropriately
As a caregiver, only one of the families I’ve interviewed with ever called my references. This is a big mistake. People always want to believe they can judge the character of an individual by just talking to her, but the newspapers are filled with evidence that most of us are way too trusting.
At one place I worked, the prior caregiver had stolen the patient’s pain medications. When hiring a replacement, her husband didn’t even ask for references.
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