It starts innocently enough. The watchful adult child, usually the daughter notes that her mother is having more trouble with walking and caring for herself. She thinks some help a few days a week would allow mom more independence. She talks her into getting help at home and sets about getting someone to come in. But daughter has never hired anyone before and she isn’t quite sure how to find the right person.
She calls a few agencies. “Too expensive” she thinks. She checks craigslist and local resources. She finds a few candidates. They’ve done the work before and give her references. She calls the numbers and the person on the other end of the call says a particular lady is fine and does great work. The price is right, so daughter hires Mrs. Stranger and she starts right away.
Mom is alert, though she has a lot of memory problems. She reluctantly accepts the help and a few weeks go by. Daughter comes to visit a while later and Mom is very quiet. “How’s Mrs. Stranger working out?” daughter asks. Mom just nods her head.
This conversation doesn’t reveal the truth that the worker is abusive and hits her. Perhaps she forgets. Perhaps she is afraid to say anything. But in truth she is in a dangerous situation. If you think this is unlikely, here’s a broadcast news story with video showing a true situation of physical and verbal elder abuse by a home care worker: http://www.ktvu.com/news/231439048-story
Home care workers are an essential part of helping elders stay at home and “age in place” as it’s called. But the explosive need that has arisen with aging has offered up massive opportunity for unscrupulous workers, those with troubled pasts or those who are untrustworthy to gain employment. And caregivers are the second most frequent financial abusers of elders, second only to thieving family members.
The takeaways from this are warnings to anyone who has an unknown person in the home with your aging parent or other family, unsupervised with a frail person. Elders with dementia are particularly vulnerable. You could be doing the right thing setting up help at home and most of the time it works out. But it can also be very risky. Here are three good prevention strategies to keep your loved one safe:
- Hire the worker through a reputable agency if you can. The price of a trained person with a manager in charge of the worker is worth it. Good agencies background check, screen and interview their workers well and save you that burden. And you are not excused from managing the manger. Be alert to all risks. Most home care workers have no license nor certification verifying their suitability.
- Do your own multi-state background check and spend what it takes to do it thoroughly. (Cost is about $100). Check social media, driving record and all sources of information you can get. This person could be a criminal in disguise. Nothing tempts a thief like opportunity: a forgetful elder with valuables easy to slip into a pocket. If the records are clean that is reassuring, but again no guarantee.
- Use security cameras in the home in locations where you can remotely see and hear what is going on where your aging parent spends time. Some call it a “nanny-cam” but we think of it as a “granny cam”. It is connected to an app on your mobile phone or computer. You can use this technology to be your eyes and ears in the home. Your daily routine should include checking the footage the camera gives you.
Millions of aging Americans can age at home with some help. When family is too far away or can’t offer that help we rely on paid workers. If you need to hire one, or your loved one does, do it with risk prevention in mind. Don’t wait until you see bruises on your loved one to get a camera in place. Peace of mind is the ideal outcome and your involvement in hiring and supervising a worker can help achieve it. We’ve written a book to answer your legal, financial and healthcare questions. Get yours today.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney and Dr. Mikol Davis