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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My problem concerns my dear mother-in-law. She wants to baby-sit my infant daughter after I return to work. "Grandma" is 80. She's deaf and frequently does not wear her hearing aid. She is physically frail, confused and forgetful. Needless to say, my husband and I are uncomfortable with the idea of her baby sitting.

She used to baby-sit our two older children, but we stopped asking her last year because we were concerned about her ability to keep track of two active youngsters.

Abby, I cannot stand the thought of telling her, "We don't want you to take care of the baby because we think you're too old to do a good job of it." It would break her heart. She does not see herself as incompetent because she still lives alone. Every time I see her she asks if she can watch the baby, and I just smile and shrug and say, "We're not sure what we're going to do with her once I go back to work."

Is there some nice way I can tell her the truth? Or should I make up some plausible story to avoid hurting her feelings? I love her dearly and don't want to hurt her, but my concerns about my baby's safety are valid. -- UNCERTAIN IN FLORIDA

DEAR UNCERTAIN: The baby's welfare must come first. Without making an issue of it, make other plans for child care. Be diplomatic when discussing them with your mother-in-law because she's only trying to be helpful, but remind her that a newborn requires physical stamina to deal with on a daily basis, and you have hired outside help to aid you in raising your three little bundles of boundless energy.

DEAR ABBY: I'd like to thank you for the help you've provided to caregivers throughout the years. Regarding "Still in Shock in Illinois," there are some other precautions families can take to ensure the proper care of their loved ones with regard to hiring home-care aides:

If possible, your loved one should receive care through a licensed home health-care agency or registry. Find out what kind of insurance they carry. Find out what procedures they use for background checks. Check all references yourself. Is someone available to assist you and your loved ones after-hours or in an emergency? Assess what level of care your loved one requires. Does the aide have the skills necessary for the job?

Do not let an aide have access to checking accounts. If money is needed for expenses, give them only what is necessary and always get receipts. And as "Still in Shock" rightfully recommended in her letter, vary the times of your visits and ask other relatives and friends to stop by as often as possible.

Above all: Trust your own instincts! If you feel that something is not right -- it probably isn't. -- GARY BARG, PUBLISHER, TODAY'S CAREGIVER MAGAZINE, FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.

DEAR GARY: Thank you for the helpful suggestions. Providing care for frail loved ones takes time, patience, sensitivity and effort. Even those who shoulder the entire responsibility need to acknowledge the fact that respite is necessary on a regular basis. For families who are able to afford professional help, the suggestions you have offered will give some guidance through the sometimes confusing process of selecting the right caregiver.

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