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Selecting a senior caregiver

It's not every day that a CPA is called in to vaccinate a cat.

For George A. Lewis, now retired from the Lafayette, La., accounting firm of Broussard, Poché, Lewis & Breaux, it was just another day at the office. An elderly client needed to get her pet shots before shipping the animal out of state, but she wasn't able to run the errand.

Many seniors find themselves in similar situations, leaving long-distance families searching for creative ways to help. A growing number have turned to caregivers, either as live-in help or to offer occasional assistance.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Resources vary depending on the community and a parent's need. But whatever your family's circumstances, there are some basic senior caregiver issues to consider.

Help that meets the senior's lifestyle
Your first step is a heart-to-heart with your parent. Find out what mom or dad wants and listen to your gut. Dad may bristle at the idea of anyone looking over his shoulder as he writes checks. But if the cable keeps going out because the payments don't arrive on time, you might be able to persuade him that an assistant can help.

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"If you can do it together, it makes it really nice," says Sue Maxwell, president of the Southern Gerontological Society, a nonprofit organization of care providers and academics headquartered in Fort Myers, Fla.

Depending on your needs, you probably will have several options. You can arrange for paid care through agencies or geriatric care managers or hire someone directly to handle specific tasks. Help also may be available from religious, community and volunteer organizations.

Investigate the various services, relying on knowledgeable referrals such as your local hospital (try the discharge services or the social worker on staff), the area agency on aging, family professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) and your parent's clergy.

The U.S. Administration on Aging runs an elder care locator service with information on local senior care options. You can call the agency at (800) 677-1116.

Jon Dauphiné, director of economic security and work campaigns for the American Association of Retired Persons, recommends an online visit to Benefits Checkup. The site is operated by the National Council on Aging to run a free and anonymous check of possible financial assistance for senior care.

Once you have a list of possibilities for care, Maxwell recommends making a chart detailing the options, what each provides, costs and pluses and minuses.

I screen, you screen
Once you narrow down your caregiver choices, screen carefully.

Anyone can call himself a geriatric care manager, says Rona Bartelstone, founding member and vice president of the National Academy of Certified Care Managers. You must do some homework to ensure you get the real thing. NACCM certifies various levels of care managers based on performance on a written test, education and experience. Many times, care managers are social workers or nurses and must be licensed in their state, a fact you can check.

Criminal background checks are always a good idea. Some states require that agencies do them, says Steve Barlam, president of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. Privacy and confidentiality laws vary by location, so the agency may not be able to share the results. If you're hiring without an agency, check with the local police or state attorney general's office for tips on running a background check, as well as what information you're allowed to see. You can also ask the worker or agency to sign a waiver of confidentiality, so you can view background information.

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-- Posted: Feb. 26, 2003
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