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Are You Unintentionally Putting Your Elderly Loved One in Danger?

When you think of what the hiring process is like for the elderly caregivers with which you are entrusting the lives of your loved ones, you may conjure up images of intense training, high marks in college, rigorous entrance exams, scrutinizing interviews and a thorough background check with the standard (and expected) drug test.  

A new study brings the elderly caregiver role into a more disturbing light, however.

No Background Checks?

The study, which has been released in the July issue of Journal of American Geriatrics Society, had researchers pose as consumers and survey 180 agencies from all over the United States.  Seeking to uncover more information about their hiring methods, the researchers targeted training practices, skill competency assessments and supervision.   

It turns out, many of these agencies don’t do a federal background check, and some of them don’t even look at an individual’s history outside of the state.  Indeed, only 55 percent of the studied agencies performed some kind of federal background check.  That means that almost one in two agencies you talk with about caring for your elder might not know they have a criminal on their payroll.  This can be a serious problem, because you have no way of knowing if that caregiver, that’s often home alone with your loved one, has a history of elderly abuse, theft, rape, or drug abuse.

Speaking of drug abuse, only one-third of the agencies said they did drug testing.  The logic behind this is a little hard to swallow.  After all, how can you be certain that the caregiver isn’t taking your elder’s medications, which often include narcotics, and using them for his own benefit or selling them to friends without your knowing?  

Skills and Competencies Are Left Untested

Then you have the skills assessments.  Again, only about a third of the agencies reviewed did any type of skills or competency exams, and many of the ones who did do exams made up the names of tests, voiding any credibility they might have had.  As a result, many of these caregivers only got their job by saying they knew a skill, but never actually had to prove it.  The researchers found that agencies did not check to see whether or not the caregivers were really competent before sending them into the field.   

On the same subject of competency assessment, some of the caregivers were found to be illiterate, and in one situation the caregiver was actually mistaking her own medications for the patient’s!  Another caregiver did not understand why bedridden elders had to be moved and instead chose to watch TV for most of her shifts.  As a result, the elderly patient ended up developing pressure ulcers and lost close to 10 percent of her body weight.  

How Can You Be Sure You Are Not Putting Your Loved One at Risk?

These results may sound scary to those currently looking for prospective caregivers, and rightfully so.  The elderly caregiving industry is a huge moneymaker because it’s always trying to keep up with the rapidly aging population, yet it’s largely unregulated.
By being a smart consumer and asking the right questions, as well as diligently researching a company, you can still find a quality agency that is capable of providing your loved ones the delicate care they need.  Beware though, as many of the sub-par agencies have slick websites and intense marketing campaigns that can make it hard to discern any difference between their company and a much higher quality one.

Cited Sources

"Dangerous Caregivers for Elderly: Agencies Place Unqualified, Possibly Criminal Caregivers in Homes of Vulnerable Seniors, Study Suggests." ScienceDaily.com. N.p., 10 July 2012. Web. 1 Aug. 2012. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710133001.htm>.


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