Lead study author Dr. Lee Lindquist of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said many agencies recruit random strangers off Craigslist and place them in the homes of vulnerable elderly people with dementia; don't do national criminal background checks or drug testing; lie about testing for qualifications; and don't require any experience or provide real training.
"People have a false sense of security when they hire a caregiver from an agency," Lindquist said in a statement. "There are good agencies out there, but there are plenty of bad ones and consumers need to be aware that they may not be getting the safe, qualified caregiver they expect."
Lindquist and colleagues posed as consumers and surveyed 180 U.S. agencies about their hiring, screening, training, skill competencies and supervision.
The study, published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, found 55 percent of the agencies did a federal background check, one-third of agencies interviewed said they did drug testing and one-third tested for caregiver skill competency.
Several agencies surveyed in the study made up names of screening tests they claimed to give their job applicants, Lindquist said.
"We had agencies say they used a 'National Scantron Test for Inappropriate Behavior' and an 'Assessment of Christian Morality Test,'" Lindquist said. "To our knowledge, these tests don't exist. If you're not a smart consumer, you won't recognize which agencies are being deceitful."