When parents are elderly and begin to have difficulty caring for themselves, one of the best gifts a concerned child can give them is the gift of a paid, in-home caregiver. The elderly may already have a lifetime of possessions, and they may not want another new memento, technological gadget, or specialty food gift. Instead, what they really may need is assistance coping with health, housekeeping, or mobility issues.

How do you know when it's time to consider in-home assistance for your elderly parents? Try watching for these possible warning signs:

  • Personal Hygiene Changes such as a failure to bathe on a daily basis, wearing the same clothes all the time, or sleeping in their clothes.
  • Passive Responses such as, "Why should I bathe/change my clothes? I don't go anywhere!"
  • A Dusty Home that was formerly very neat or the house not being cleaned regularly.
  • A Lack of Food in the refrigerator or placing to-go orders on a regular basis may signal difficulty driving, a fear of driving, or a physical inability to lift the groceries out of the car.
  • Tiredness and constant complaints could be a possible sign of depression or loneliness.
  • Forgetfulness such as leaving food cooking on the stove, leaving the faucet on, not taking medications as prescribed, the phone left off the hook or bills left unpaid.

Once you decide to seek a caregiver, take the following steps to ensure you hire the right person and manage the working relationship effectively.

Discuss Before Hiring
Your elderly parents should be part of the discussion regarding in-home care. A tremendous amount of fear may exist once they realize they are not functioning well on their own. Your parents may fear losing their freedom or their home. Always approach this topic with compassion.

Most often, the elderly can't imagine how an in-home caregiver can possibly help them. To ease the transition, suggest they "try out" the caregiver by having them assign basic housekeeping chores, such as laundry, changing bed linens, and general cleaning duties. The caregiver can also run errands such as grocery shopping or accompanying your parents to doctor appointments.

In some instances, the caregiver can simply be a companion to drive the elderly to the movies or church. Often, the caregiver is a senior as well, so your parents may find much in common with their caregiver.

Manage the Caregiver Relationship
List the duties you and your elderly parent expect the caregiver to perform and clearly communicate the responsibilities and the timing with the caregiver. Clearly explain your expectations and set boundaries for the caregiver's personal phone calls, breaks, etc.

However personal the caregiver relationship becomes, make sure all family members and the caregiver understand that the paid worker is not a family member. The caregiver should NOT have access to credit or ATM cards. Nor should the worker be paid in cash.

Pay close attention to your parents' feelings. If your or your parents feel uncomfortable or incompatible with the caregiver, take action immediately. Either do not hire the person or discontinue his/her use if you've already hired the person.

Finally, remember, in-home assistance is not the beginning of the end. Instead, it's an active step to prolong your elder parents' ability to live in their lifelong home for as long as possible. Hiring an in-home caregiver is a proactive step that can help the elderly continue to lead healthy, active, and happy lives.