The Risk of Hiring Informal Caregivers: What You Don’t Know May Harm Your Elder

care giver and elderly man sit together
Well-meaning but untrained caregivers can put your elder at risk
Image source: Flickr user Ulrich Joho

There can be no doubt that hiring professional caregivers is a task that takes time and energy. In the nursing home where I worked, our aftercare agencies were highly scrutinized for staff with experience, training, and criminal records to ensure that patients received only the best services available. If your elderly loved one lives at home, you’ll likely have to undertake similar tasks, checking up on agencies, and interviewing possible candidates. Sometimes, it’s very tempting to just throw in the towel, hire an informal caregiver (such as a friend or relative), and call it a day. But there are dangers inherent in procuring such caregivers to look after the important senior in your life.

You may not be able to trust informal caregivers

Now, I don’t want to alarm you when I tell you issues of trust can arise between informal caregivers and elderly patients. Many informal caregivers (maybe even most of them) are loving people who take great pains to look after their charges responsibly. However, since hiring them does not usually involve much of a screening process, you have no way of truly knowing their history or background. When it comes to the care of a loved one, it is always in their best interest to have as much information as possible regarding the individual you select to provide care.

Carefully evaluate any caregiver candidates

An informal caregiver may be guilty of stealing from past patients, subjecting them to physical assault and neglect, abusing their prescription medication, and much more. If they’re licensed or certified by the state, these crimes can be reported and investigated. A list will likely be available to you when you review potential candidates. However, with informal and unlicensed caregivers, there is no such system. You don’t even have any way of knowing if the caregiver is who they say they are.

Again, this information is not to make you afraid to have a close friend or relative watch your loved one for an afternoon. But if you’re looking into getting consistent, daily care for a senior, there is simply no substitute for trained, vetted professionals.

Homecare is best left in the hands of professionals

It’s entirely possible that an informal caregiver is a law-abiding citizen who only wants to do right by your loved one. Unfortunately, this is not good enough when it comes to meeting your senior’s day-to-day needs. In addition to not knowing how to deal with emergencies, or how to recognize the symptoms of dangerous conditions (like heart attacks or strokes), there are other considerations. For instance, a person with limited mobility has to rise from a seat, sit back down, get into bed, and get out again in a particular manner to decrease the risk of injury. If your caregiver isn’t familiar with the proper protocols, there is an increase in the chance that the senior may suffer a serious calamity, such as a fall.

To sum this up succinctly, I’d say this: although it takes a bit more time and effort to hire trained help for your senior, it is well worth it. There is no replacement for the peace of mind you feel knowing they are in the best possible hands.

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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