Many agencies are placing unqualified or dangerous caregivers into the homes of elderly adults – and, with an aging population, and more seniors who would like to remain in their own homes, this will become an even bigger problem than it already is.

While one may think that agencies who provide caregivers for adults may seek individuals who are trained, train caregivers, or provide background checks, that may not necessarily be true. A study conducted by a Northwestern Medicine research team found that many agencies searched for caregivers with tools like Craigslist and do not conduct national background tests or drug tests.

Lead study author Lee Lindquist, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, conducted the study with her colleagues. They posed as consumers and called 180 agencies to ask them about their hiring practices.

Some agencies were making up tests that they said that they used to screen out applicants, like the 'National Scantron Test for Inappropriate Behavior' or the 'Assessment of Christian Morality Test,' neither of which exist.

And the industry, which will surely be growing as baby boomers grow older, is largely unregulated.

Researchers found that 45 percent of agencies conducted a federal background check. Many agencies did not look outside the borders of the state, meaning that a person could have committed a felony against an elderly person in one state that went undetected by their agency.

Only 33 percent of agencies said that they conducted drug testing. With elderly people prescribed a cocktail of medications, it would not be difficult for caregivers to steal drugs in order to support an illicit drug habit.

In addition to the above concerns, only 33 percent of agencies test the competency of caregivers’ skills. Many do not send supervisors to monitor home visits, and nearly 59 percent simply ask caregivers for an assessment of their skills, making it easy for caregivers to simply lie about their qualifications.

Lindquist did add that there are indeed many good agencies and caregivers in existence but, with such slick advertising campaigns by agencies, consumers really need to do their research.

The results of the study were published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.