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We want to help our parents, who did so much to get us started in life. But sooner or later most of us realize that we can’t do it alone. Whether we are far away, have other work and family commitments or simply need to sleep occasionally, we need help.

That help may allow us to keep working or may give us an occasional day off from caregiving. That help may be skilled and experienced in caring for people who face our parents’ challenges. One of the dangers family caregivers face is the need to provide assistance in areas in which we have no training or ability.

What help do caregivers need?

We can start by writing a description of our parent’s typical day, their challenges and prognosis. The caregiver who helps you needs to have a baseline in order to be able to observe and share information on nutrition, hygiene, activities, services and more.

Writing it all down will also help us focus on specific requirements. If Dad is wheelchair-bound, we may need a caregiver who knows how to use a Hoyer lift. If Mom can’t remember to turn off the stove, she may need a caregiver who can make her and dad’s favorite recipes. Hiring a helper who can do this or who has seen the road ahead for people who face our parent’s challenges can make all the difference for them and for us.

When we interview people, whether through an agency or on our own, we can come prepared with a list of specific questions. We can ask for references and run a background check. We can ask others for their impressions.

There are also basic questions we can ask potential caregivers.

  • How long have you been a caregiver?
  • Where have your worked?
  • What did you do?
  • Are you licensed and bonded? May I take a copy of these documents, your Social Security card and driver’s license?
  • What challenges have you dealt with in the past? How are they like the challenges my parent faces now or is likely to face in the future?
  • How do you keep track of and administer medicine?
  • How would you help someone in a wheelchair or someone who uses a walker get into and out of a car? A chair? A bed? Bathe? Use the toilet?
  • What other techniques do you use to ensure physical safety?
  • What techniques do you use when someone’s mind wanders? When they don’t remember where they are? What they were doing?
  • Who you are? When they become irritated or argumentative?
  • What experience do you have cooking for people with my parent’s dietary restrictions and food preferences?
  • What in the job description makes you uncomfortable?

We must remember that no helper will suit everyone and no helper will be available forever. Just as the person we hire provides backup for us, we must have backup for them.

But with their help, we will be able to help our parents more and for longer than if we tried to do it all alone.

 

 

Estate Planning attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

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