5 Qualities to Look for in a Home Health Aide

Making the decision to hire home care for an aging loved one can be a difficult choice for many families. Older adults may worry that they will lose a measure of their independence. If it is a situation where family members have been the primary caregiver, they may be uncomfortable giving up the reins of caregiving to someone new, especially someone they haven't met before. However, most people who need long-term care prefer to live at home or in a community setting instead of a long-term care facility such as assisted living or a nursing home. In fact, bringing required services into the home can help a loved one postpone their need for placement in a long-term care facility. 

Of course there are other things that factor into this decision, such as whether they will need skilled care or not. As the family begins their search and interview process, there are a few things to consider when looking for the right match. Try to seek out these valuable characteristics.

Identifying essential traits

First, make sure your aging loved one understands and is comfortable with the idea of bringing in home care. Then you can begin your search with reputable home care agencies that will help you and your family find the perfect match in a home health aide.

Second, you will want to do some research to determine the agency you want to work with. A simple series of phone interviews will help with this decision. Once you have selected an agency, their care coordinator will typically set up an in-home assessment to meet you and your loved one. From there, you will be given the opportunity to personally interview prospective caregivers, and there are some key leadership traits to look for. Be sure to ask the agency if you will be involved in the selection process. If not, you can discuss your preferences with the agency.

Experience: Home health aides provide necessary care for aging adults who struggle with activities of daily living. They assist in bathing, dressing, preparing healthy meals and much more. Make sure you check each candidate's experience and references, if possible. Also, if your loved one has a preexisting condition, such as dementia or diabetes, make sure that the caregiver you choose has experience working with these conditions.

Expertise: Make sure that the caregiver you choose has undergone the necessary training according to state guidelines. For example, Partners in Care in New York requires that their home health aides complete an additional 39 hours of initial training on top of the state's minimum requirements. They also receive an additional 14 hours of training annually.

Compassion: It is equally important for your home health aide to be compassionate toward your loved one as well. The bond between a patient and their caregiver is very important. Compassion and attentiveness are crucial to fostering a trusting relationship with your loved one. See what interests your loved one has that can possibly be shared with a home companion, such as watching a particular sport or listening to a certain kind of music. They will be spending plenty of time together, and shared interests can make this time more enjoyable for both parties.

Patience: Home health aides can offer a welcome relief for families who may be overwhelmed or losing patience with the task of caregiving. One of the most important qualities to look for in a caregiver is patience—especially when seeking care for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Communication: You want to look for someone that can communicate well and with a positive attitude. Since they will be spending ample amounts of time with your aging loved one, you want them to be able to communicate well with one another, and with you. Your caregiver should assist in keeping your loved one calm and comfortable, while also communicating with you and your family about any changes in their care routine or conditions.

It is extremely important to make sure you find a home health aide that is a good match for your loved one in terms of experience and personality. If your aging loved one is comfortable with their caregiver, and you feel confident that you have hired someone with adequate experience, compassion for others, plenty of patience and positive communication skills, then you should be confident that your loved one is in good hands.

Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). In this role, she coordinates patient care and manages a multi-disciplinary team of field nursing and home health care professionals in the clinical area of a VNSNY’s private care division.

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