Start off on the right foot with the family of any elderly or disabled person in your care, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Before you agree to work for anyone who contacts you, have an in-depth conversation about their expectations and their (or their loved one's) needs. You and those in your care will both benefit, and will avoid frustration, if you can give the family the specific results they expect.
Interview the Senior and His Family
During the initial meeting with the senior or their family -- meeting by phone is OK, but meeting in person is highly recommended -- ask them some basic questions:
- Questions about your role
- What resources and contacts do you have if there is an emergency?
- What are your household rules? You will want to know if you can take a few personal calls, if necessary.
- What else would you expect of me? Will I cook meals? Do housework? Wash clothes? Administer his medicine and check vitals? Bathing?
- What are his routines, and who are the people involved?
- Can you walk me through a typical day? (Or night or week, depending on the job.)
- What are his needs? What are my primary care responsibilities?
- Questions about the senior
- What are his specific medical needs, and what medications is he on?
- What is his level of independence? Cognition? Function? Memory?
- What are his allergies or other avoidable conditions?
- Does he have unusual habits?
- Does he have any habits you are trying to break? Reinforce?
- What are his favorite pastimes, books, and things to do?
- Does he prefer company or to be left alone?
- Is there anything that scares him?
- Are there any religious or cultural matters I should be aware of?
- At what point should I contact you if an issue arises?
Be Prepared to Answer Questions the Family Will Have For You
Once you've finished asking the questions, it's their turn to interview you. Make sure you're prepared with answers and examples, or be proactive and have a "pitch" ready -- jump right in and tell them what you can offer to meet their (and their loved one's) needs. Also, be crystal clear on your fees and services.
Outline Your Services
For families to know what to expect, it's very important that people know exactly what you do and what services you offer.
- If you're a companion, it's important that the family know that you are not a medical professional (unless you have that training and want to provide both services, in which case additional charges should be discussed).
- Let them know if you will do things like light housework, food prep and cooking, errands, transportation and outings and laundry. Also inform them if you don't have the requisite training to administer medicine or check vital signs on a daily basis, etc. This type of clarity is especially important for families of disabled or critically ill persons, who may naively think that you can substitute for a (more expensive) registered nurse or certified home health aide.
Walk Through Your Routine
Talk them through a typical day. What time will you arrive or leave? Most families are thrown into the situation of needing senior or elder care without much warning. They most likely will not be used to having strangers in their home and the need to schedule care. Help them plan accordingly, and let them know exactly what to expect/depend on.
Payment and Cancellations Policies
- Make sure to be explicit about your fees, extra charges and cancellation policy up front.
- How many hours or days in advance must they contact you in order to not be charged if they have to cancel?
- How can they contact you?
- How will they deliver payment to you?
- Do you accept both cash and checks, or only cash?
- Confirm details about entering/exiting their home: will you have your own set of keys, is there a doorman, have they told their neighbors, doctors, other family members, etc.
You can discuss the senior with his family, but the senior is the one who will really tell you what you need to know. Spend your initial meeting getting to know one another. Try to determine his demeanor, personality and level of ability to function independently. Try to make him feel comfortable with your presence. After all, the senior is the one with whom you're going to be interacting closely.
Tiffany Smith is the senior associate editor here at Care.com. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.