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My mother, age 86 lives alone in a high rise building, where she has several friends that she socializes with. None of them drive, but together they depend on car services or someone’s family member for errands, grocery shopping and other outings.

A few months ago she fell and fortunately she was only bruised. But now she’s become anxious about being alone. She can afford to get some help but the thought of interviewing a stranger in her home frightens her. I live in New York and I’ve tried to help her find a companion, but even I get overwhelmed after speaking by phone to the home health agencies. Any advice?  Jeremy S., New York, New York.

It’s understandable that your mother would be fearful of letting strangers in her home, even if they are there to help her. I can suggest several ways that you can help her get through this fear.

First, begin with some research and “strategic planning” from your home in New York so that you’re ready to implement a plan with your mother the next time you visit her.

Before making any calls to the agencies, talk with your mother to reassure her of your involvement in finding just the right person and to keep her focused on the end result. That is, she’ll be happier, more relaxed and able to live even more independently as she ages with a companion. Ask her what type of help she wants and the hours she thinks some extra support would be most helpful to her.

Then, identify one or two home health agencies close to her residence and speak to them in advance of a visit with your mother. Arrange for you and your mother to meet with a representative of the agency you select at her apartment so that you can be by her side when she interviews them and compare notes after your meetings. It’s her decision, but your presence will give your mother comfort.

Once you decide on the agency, don’t leave for home before you and your mother together have a chance to interview the caregiver candidates that the agency proposes. If at all possible, I would stick around when the caregiving relationship begins. This will make the transition easier for you mother and you will have a chance to establish a good rapport with the caregiver so you can communicate more easily with her from afar.

When talking with the agencies by phone, keep the following selection criteria in mind:

  • Do they provide the services that your mother needs?Home Care companies are licensed to provide specific services, so not all agencies are the same. For example Companion/Homemaker companies provide non-medical services. Home Health Agencies are licensed to perform more “hands on” tasks.

  • Are they licensed, properly insured, and in good standing?Don’t hesitate to ask for a copy of their insurance certificate. If they refuse, then move to the next company on your list. You can review their state inspection reports using State records, which are available to the public in many states.

  • Do they have a plan of action in case of an emergency or if the caregiver doesn’t know what to do? Knowing how they'll handle an unforeseen medical event or other emergency will give you confidence that your mother is in good hands.

  • Do you feel comfortable with either the owner or the administrator of the Agency?While everyone wants to hire an aide that is personable and skilled, remember that this is a business transaction and you must feel comfortable with the person who is ultimately responsible for your mother’s wellbeing.