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A good in-home service has a cell phone policy for caregivers

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Cell phones have become as much a part of our culture as cars. While cell phones are a wonderful convenience and occasionally a life saver, they can also be a toy and a distraction. Excessive cell phone usage has become a frequent complaint by families who hire in-home agencies to care for their elders. Every in-home agency should have a strictly enforced policy for cell phone use by their employees.

Cell phones were something that I didn't have to think about when I was using in-home care agencies for several of my loved ones. However, I have received a number of e-mails from people who question the frequent use of cell phones by people who are supposed to be caring for their parents.

When I received my first e-mail from a family member complaining about cell phone use by a caregiver, I was surprised but felt it was just an unusual incident. I responded to the person but didn't write about the issue. However, as I've begun to hear more and more about this problem, I've started addressing it.

Elder Care and Cell Phone Use

I began by contacting two national in-home health agencies and asking them about their policy. They both told me that their caregivers are not to use their cell phones for any reason. They can use the client's phone in an emergency, but that is all.

While the strictness of this rule surprised me, it's likely sound. If I were a family member of someone being cared for by an in-home agency, I would certainly expect that the caregiver's job is to focus on my loved one. Texting or chatting on the phone to friends and family is not what they are paid to do.

I wouldn't have a problem with someone checking in with a child or spouse, but that can be hard to monitor, thus the hard and fast rules.

Elder Care: Three Major Reasons to Nix Cell Phone Use

The danger of cell phones has several elements:

  • The caregiver is distracted by the phone call or the text messaging. This is time you are paying for, but more importantly, during this time of distraction, you loved one could fall, take the wrong medication or just plain feel lonely and left out.
  • Many elders have hearing problems. They may think the carer is talking to them and get confused when they respond and don't get an answer.
  • Someone with dementia may become paranoid. They hear a person talking to someone who isn't there. This can lead the person with dementia to wonder who else is in the house and become an issue that lasts far longer than the phone call by the carer.

Elder Care: Ask Agencies about Cell Phone Policy Use

After hearing from these people, I've started advising potential agency seekers to add to their list of questions when they interview a care agency a question about cell phone use policy. A good agency should have one in place. If they do not and you bring it up, they should be honest and say there isn't one but there should be a policy by the time your loved one is added to their agency care list.

It's often surprising how many seemingly small issues can become large issues when a vulnerable elder is involved. Cell phone use by a caregiver is one of the newer ones.