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Caregiving at Home

Tips for providing in-home care for a loved one

Even when their need for specialized care is great, most older people prefer to stay at home. Often adult children and other family members take on the caregiving responsibilities — providing rides, picking up prescriptions and helping out around the house. Eventually, they may even be managing high-tech medical treatments, assisting with daily activities and dealing with end-of-life issues.

But too many times, caregivers try to do it all. Those who seek and accept outside help with tasks are less likely to burn out and better able to provide long-term support for their parents.

Community-based services can include everything from help with household chores to round-the-clock care provided by a nurse, a trained aide or a volunteer. Sometimes care is covered by insurance or free of charge by a nonprofit organization; other services charge hourly rates.

To ease the stress and strain of caregiving, here are some resources to consider:

Help with everyday needs

A friendly check-in

Sometimes a phone call or visit by a companionship service or volunteer organization can be reassuring for an older person living alone. Visits and phone calls are likely to be of minimal cost or free if provided by the local area Agency on Aging.

Help around the house

Home care aides can do laundry, cooking or run errands. To make the home safer for elderly residents, repair services can be hired for minor repairs and maintenance.

Meal programs

For a hot meal and social interaction, some agencies deliver meals to the home and some seniors centers serve group meals.

Home health care

In-home nurses and therapists

Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses can carry out skilled care prescribed by physicians, such as monitoring medications and teaching recipients and their families about special care procedures. Professional therapists provide respiratory, physical, speech and occupational therapies in the home.

Home health aides

These workers assist with personal care tasks such as bathing, dressing, eating and exercising. Sometimes Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance covers the services.

Hospice care

At the end of life, hospice care in the home or a facility can provide professionally coordinated support services, including pain and symptom management, social services, and emotional and spiritual support for the terminally ill and their families.

Adult day services

Local centers provide structured, comprehensive programs including a variety of health, social and related support services during the day.

Help for caregivers

Caregiver support groups

These groups provide emotional support and information sharing among people who are also caregivers.

Geriatric care manager

A professional who performs an assessment of a person's mental, physical, environmental and financial conditions to create a care plan to assist in arranging housing, medical, social and other services.

Respite care

These services provide temporary relief to regular caregivers from a few hours a day to several weeks. The care can be in an adult day center, a nursing home, in the home (usually short term) or elsewhere. Most provide companionship or supervision when care is needed for only a few hours at a time.

Tips for linking with community services

Identify needs

You can do this on your own, or you may hire a geriatric care manager to conduct a formal assessment of needs and suggest sources of assistance.

Do research

Find out what community services are available where your parent lives or tap into the expertise of a local geriatric care manager, social worker or hospital discharge planner. Check with your area Agency on Aging, community or faith-based services, and your local department of social services for available programs.

Compare costs

While you may be able to find free or subsidized services, some may be offered only on a short-term basis. If Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance provides coverage, find out the limits.

Check out quality

Since there is limited government oversight of long-term care services, the consumer needs to check the quality of services carefully.

Helpful planning strategies

  • Get referrals from friends and family.
  • Interview providers personally, and when possible, involve your parent.
  • Ask about worker's education and training.
  • Visit facilities to learn about the activities, types of people participating and whether it's a good fit.
  • Be organized. Specialists on aging suggest developing a file system for all the agencies or services you research. Information you learn now may be useful later.
  • Be sensitive. Acknowledge your parents' reactions, but know your own limits. Although your parents may prefer that you or other family members provide all their care, it may be best for everyone for you to get some help.

You may also like: Everything you need to know about caregiving.

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