Most people will need long-term care services at some point in their lives. To help people who are disabled or elderly and their families, we’ve put together a guide covering everything you need to know about home care and how to make it work.
What is Home Care?
Home care is a caregiving option that allows someone who needs assistance with daily living tasks to stay in their own home. Depending on the individual’s needs, a trained caregiver will come in on a regular basis to help with bathing or dressing, household chores, cooking, accessing healthcare, and many other services.
Many people who are aging, chronically ill, recovering from surgery, or disabled receive home care, especially if their care needs are not extensive. For older adults, this is often referred to as “aging in place.”
Overall, home care can be a great option for people who have trouble functioning or performing daily life activities. The providers are trained professionals who meet state certification requirements and work to understand their clients’ individual needs. There’s a reason home care is one of the most popular alternatives to nursing homes, especially for people who do not need very extensive care or have limited finances.
Home Care vs. Assisted Living
While home care takes place in the individual’s own home, assisted living takes place in a special residential setting where the individual lives near other care recipients. Assisted living homes generally include housing, meals, exercise opportunities, community activities, and health care in addition to daily personal assistance and housekeeping.
Many adults prefer home care because they can stay in their own homes and often save money. They or their family can choose a consistent caregiver rather than potentially being cared for by many different people in an assisted living facility.
However, home care can be cost-prohibitive if 24/7 care is needed, and the family must stay involved in managing caregivers and providing backup care options.
Most people decide between home care and assisted living based on the level of care they need. If someone only needs assistance a few times a week or for a few months, home care generally makes more sense. If they need 24/7 supervision and access to care beyond what their family can provide throughout the day and night, assisted living is likely the better option.
Home care can include an extremely wide range of care services, including:
- Assistance with bathing and getting dressed
- Housekeeping tasks such as cleaning, laundry, and yardwork
- Cooking or meal delivery
- Assistance with medication management and reminders
- Assistance with accessing healthcare, such as transportation to medical appointments, help with setting up telehealth, or having a home health aide come to the individual’s home
- Money management assistance, such as making sure the individual’s bills are paid on time and forms are filled out correctly
- Regular companionship
In home care, the goal is to help individuals live safely in their own home and allow them to achieve the highest possible quality of life. A good home care program will help the client avoid unnecessary hospitalization, stay comfortable, more easily manage any ongoing medical conditions, and live with the highest possible level of independence.
Mental Health Care
Visits from a home care aide can be life-changing for individuals with mental health concerns. Home care providers can provide round-the-clock support by monitoring the client’s mood and activities, helping them remain calm and happy, and even working to help them recover from mental illness.
Mental health home care can be a great option for people with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, autism, attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and many other mental health conditions. Many home care aides are also trained to work with patients who have developmental disabilities or behavioral health issues that may intersect with mental health.
Some home care agencies can provide full-time assistance for clients with more serious mental health issues, or some of the support of full inpatient treatment. For individuals with less serious needs, a home care provider can provide companionship, help with organizing schedules, and assist with medications.
How Do I Know When It’s Time to Hire a Caregiver?
The right time to hire a caregiver is whenever an individual’s care needs exceed what they or their family can provide alone. That applies not only to aging adults, but also adults with behavioral health needs, developmental disabilities, and other physical or mental challenges.
If any of the following apply to you or your loved one, you should seriously consider finding a home care agency:
- Growing care needs. If an individual’s impairment is getting worse, they likely need more help. Declining home maintenance, increasing forgetfulness, balance or movement difficulties, and a noticeable decrease in hygiene are all common signs that an individual may need assistance.
- Caregiving is a full-time job. Family members are often the first to take on care responsibilities for their loved ones, and the time commitment can be extreme. If you are caring for a loved one and are struggling to manage all your responsibilities, it may be time to hire a professional caregiver to help.
- Special care needs. Many individuals need assistance that goes beyond a normal person’s skill set, such as daily medical treatment or mental health care. An HCA-C (the term for a certified caregiver in Washington State) has extensive training to be able to handle all these tasks and more.
- A need for more social interaction. Adults who have care needs are often homebound. Over time, this can lead to depression, loneliness, and other mental health effects. A caregiver can provide the companionship and social time your loved one needs and maybe even help them get out of the house to interact with friends more.
70% of adults who survive to age 65 will need long-term services and support at some point during their lives, and 48% will need at least some paid care. Even the most well-intentioned, caring families can’t always take on all their loved ones’ needs. Don’t be ashamed to seek caregiving assistance when you need it!
How to Find a Great Caregiver
Few decisions are as important as finding a caregiver. You want to choose someone who has the right training to provide care and who you feel you can trust.
- Training and certification in line with state law (look for the term HCA-C, or Home Care Aide-Certified, in Washington State)
- A background check free from recurring issues that are likely to impact the quality of care (most care agencies perform background checks on their caregivers)
- If going through a care agency, the agency has a good reputation and works with your financial situation
- The caregiver measures success in terms of their clients’ health and happiness
If you do not immediately “click” with a caregiver, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the wrong person for the job. We recommend giving each potential caregiver a day or two to see if you warm up to them. Ultimately, though, if you are not completely comfortable with a caregiver, you can always request that the agency sends someone else.
Many people prefer to hire a caregiver through an agency. A caregiving agency will take care of things like pay, taxes, replacements during sick leave, scheduling, and insurance for you. If you hire an individual HCA-C outside of an agency, you will need to handle most of that yourself.
Home care can be expensive, but fortunately, there are many options for financing care. Some care recipients fund the cost of home care with a combination of life insurance policies, investments, savings, annuities, and home equity loans. Many people receive assistance through Medicaid or Medicare.