Whether you need help for yourself or an aging parent, in-home care can lighten your physical and psychological load. But because a home-care aid will be in your private space, and may assist with intimate aspects of everyday life, “you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure you choose the right person,” says Karen A. Roberto, PhD, director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Some key tips to keep in mind:

DO assess your needs and write a detailed job description. Compose a list of all the tasks you need help with – including medical and grooming needs, housework help, grocery shopping and transportation assistance – and the hours and days of the week care is needed. This will help attract the right applicants.

DO thorough interviews with several candidates. You’ll up the odds of finding the right arrangement, says Roberto. “If you’re going through an agency, find out how long they’ve been in business, what kind of oversight and training they provide for caregivers, and how they facilitate communication between the caregiver and caregivee,” says Roberto. “If they’re licensed by the state and/or certified by Medicare or other governing agency, request the results of the most recent survey or review.” Considering an independent contractor (who often refer to themselves as home health aides)? Ask about their credentials and experiences, as well as what they charge for services and how they handle a payment schedule.

DON’T forget to check references. “Ask for multiple references and letters of recommendation – and check every one, even if you’re using an agency and they say they’ve already vetted the individual,” says elder care specialist Marion Somers, PhD, and author of Elder Care Made Easier (Addicus Books, 2006). Similarly, make sure you have a copy of the caregiver’s driver’s license and social security card on file.

DO get everything in writing. Make a list of daily tasks as well as occasional duties – like purchasing groceries or helping with doctor’s trips – and be sure the aide is comfortable with each and has performed it in the past (or if not, is willing to undergo training), advises Roberto. A written contract is also smart. “It doesn’t have to be long, complicated or drawn up by a lawyer,” says Somers. “But it should detail an average month’s work as well as payment terms, so that you’re on the same page about the job.”

DON’T be afraid to find someone else. “It’s wise to consider a one-month trial before extending a formal offer; that makes it easier to let someone go if it’s not working out,” says Somers. Above all, “trust your gut,” she urges. “If your needs aren’t being met or you feel uncomfortable in your home, it’s time to look for someone new.”

 

More Home Care Resources

National Caregivers Library’s needs assessment worksheet and other helpful forms. 

AARP’s guide to hiring a home care worker.

Family Caregiver Alliance’s in-home help tip sheet.

IRS’s recommendations for hiring household employees.

Are you a caregiver? Read more about how to ease your caregiving duties.