Five Things to Do Before Engaging a Caregiver

When mom needs help around the house and to get through her daily activities, picking the right caregiver is a process.  You must be part psychologist, detective and human resources expert to find somebody with the right skills and personality.  That’s the advantage of an agency, where they spend a lot time on these issues as part of their caregiver screening process.

If you have the time, you can do it yourself and save money.  Here are a few pointers.

1 – Inquire about the caregiver’s credentials, certifications and educational background 

While experience and personality may be most important, a caregiver’s education is certainly an indication of her capabilities and commitment to her profession.  In North Carolina, the common caregiver designations you’ll see are the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), which is a licensure found in many states, including North Carolina, and the Home Health Aide (HHA), which is a type of CNA credential offered by other states.

While good to have, keep in mind that CNA or HHA skills may not be relevant to what your mom needs. A CNA is trained in “clinical” type activities like how to give someone a bed bath and how to help her dress when she has a weak arm.  If your mom needs help with laundry, bill paying and grocery shopping, the skills learned in CNA school are irrelevant.  In this case, it may be more helpful to find someone with a bright cheery personality and patient disposition.

2 – Be sure to ask detailed questions

The right questions help uncover the important facts about a caregiver’s experience, and give insight into her personality and demeanor.

  • What kind of clients have you helped in the past?
  • How long was the engagement with each client?
  • How many hours/week were you with each person?
  • What type of things did you do for them? Please walk through a typical day on the job.
  • Why did that job come to an end?
  • What is your current availability? Can you work the hours mom needs?
  • What transportation do you have and how reliable is it?

Asking hypothetical scenarios is also a great way to see how the caregiver thinks and communicates.


  • “Mom has dementia and suddenly refuses to take her medicine? How do you handle that situation?”


  • “Due to her advancing Alzheimer’s, Mom does not recognize you and thinks you are an intruder. She is going to call the police.  What do you do?”

3 – Run a criminal background check and driving record

There are many sites offering background check services.   Sometimes the caregiver will have a recent transcript that she can show you.  In all cases, be sure that you are seeing a national record, not one just for the state.   If someone broke the law in another state, chances are it will not appear in the state criminal report.

You may think that a driving record is not needed if the person will not be driving for your mom.  But one’s driving history provides a helpful fact pattern.  If someone has exceeded the speed limit several times and has a DUI, it suggests that she makes poor decisions on a regular basis.    Certainly if you had two equal candidates, one with a spotless driving record and the other with a record that is heavily blemished, you’d prefer the individual with a good driving record.

In addition, use that powerful tool known as the Internet. Type in the person’s name and see what you find.  If the caregiver has a commonly occurring surname, include the town in the search. Look at her social media postings.  If you see warning signs, follow your instincts.

4 – Check references.

We can’t underestimate the importance of this step.  Speaking with two or three professional references is a must.  Ideally, these will be past clients she has served, or supervisors in a facility where she has worked.

Ask what she did for the client, the reason she is no longer with them, her best and worst aspects and if they’d use her again.

5 – Ask mom what she thinks 

Hopefully, you are making mom part of the process.  Let her have as much “ownership” as possible.  Don’t just interview one person, but two or three so she can have input, compare and participate in the decision.  If your mom is not a happy camper, all your efforts to arrange care for her will be wasted.

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Caring Corner

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About the Author:

Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.

They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.

Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.

Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones.  He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio.  He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.