Working families across the country are spending more time thinking about how to help their aging loved ones transition into a new phase of their lives. While they may want their parents and grandparents to continue living independently, seniors often have health conditions that require ongoing care. For many of these families, home care assistance services offer an ideal solution.
What Qualifies as Home Care Assistance?
Home care assistance is defined as any professional support services that help a person to live safely at home. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.5 million people receive some form of home healthcare per year. These services are often used by people with chronic health conditions, people with special needs or disabilities, and people recovering from a medical procedure or setback. A large proportion of caregivers also provide assistance to aging seniors. With the number of people aged 65 and older expected to grow from 56 million in 2020 to 85.7 million in 2050, these services will only become more common.
There are several categories of paid caregivers that qualify as home care assistance. They are distinguished primarily by their level of education/training and what services they are legally allowed to provide.
Personal Care Aide
A personal care aide (PCA) does not hold any special licenses or certifications to provide medical care. While a few states do not have any requirements for someone to become a PCA, others require certain training or certifications. They can provide personal support with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as helping someone bathe or dress, and can perform household tasks like cleaning, preparing meals, or walking pets. A PCA can also provide transportation, pick up groceries and prescriptions, and arrange activities.
Home Health Aide
A home health aide (HHA) has completed a federal standard of 75 training hours and must also meet specific state requirements, which could include additional training hours or specific certifications (11 states, for example, also require HHAs to be certified nurse aides). In addition to providing support around the household and assisting with ADLs, HHAs can also check vital signs (blood pressure, respiration, pulse, etc) and monitor health conditions (such as one's diet, mental awareness, and physical activity).
Licensed nursing assistants (LNAs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can perform additional medical functions under the direction of a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner. These tasks include taking vital signs, setting up medical equipment, changing dressings, cleaning catheters, and monitoring infections. In addition, they often still provide support with ADLs, such as helping someone bathe or eat, and perform various domestic chores like household cleaning or preparing food. Federal law mandates that nursing assistants complete a minimum of 75 hours of training, but many states require additional hours.
Licensed Practical Nurse
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a dedicated healthcare professional who can administer direct medical care. Depending upon their training, LPNs can provide various forms of therapy (occupational, physical, speech, etc) and administer some treatments such as IVs, shots, and tube feedings. They can also provide education and guidance for family members and less specialized caregivers. Becoming an LPN requires about a year of post-secondary education and a license from the state’s board of nursing.
A registered nurse (RN) is typically the highest level of home health care available. They hold a degree in nursing and have met the licensing requirements to deliver direct medical care, administer medications, operate medical equipment, and provide medical advice to family members. In the event of a health emergency, they can assist a doctor with medical procedures. Although a little over half of RNs work in a hospital setting, they are becoming a more popular choice for home health care for seniors with acute medical needs.
Finding Quality Home Care Assistance in Your Area
When it comes time to find home care assistance for your aging loved one, there are a few options that can help connect you to qualified caregivers in your area.
Home Care Agencies
A home health agency is an organization that hires caregivers and matches them with the needs of their customers. Customers sign a contract with the agency rather than the individual caregiver. The great thing about working with an agency is the reliability and convenience. If a caregiver can’t come to work for some reason, the agency can usually provide a backup. After locating an agency in your area (Medicare maintains a searchable database that makes it easy to find local agencies), you can research reviews from customers and patients to learn more about it.
While these services may cost more than hiring a home care provider directly, the agency ensures that their caregivers have undergone background checks and possess the relevant experience to do their job effectively. The agency also handles administrative issues like taxes, insurance coverage, and scheduling. Since they typically have a diverse range of caregivers to call upon, they can easily provide more specialized healthcare professionals if your aging loved one’s needs change.
Since these services are based on a contract, however, they tend to be less flexible than an independent home care worker. Agencies don’t typically accommodate unique scheduling needs or allow customers to select their preferred caregiver. They can also be quite expensive and their contracts may lock families into a long-term commitment for services they may not need.
Home Care Registries
Home health care registries are staffing services that connect customers to individual caregivers. Unlike agencies, which actually employ and manage their caregivers, registries are not involved with home care planning after charging their initial matchmaking fee. They also don’t provide any administrative support. Customers are responsible for performing background checks, verifying credentials, and filing tax paperwork for paying the caregiver. They also don’t provide any insurance coverage or help you find a replacement when your caregiver calls out sick.
On the other hand, registries give people the freedom to locate caregivers who meet very specific needs. An agency may not be able to guarantee, for example, that they can provide someone who speaks a specific language or is able to meet your unique scheduling requirements. Since the caregiver is independent, you can work out whatever home care arrangement works best for them and your aging loved one. You can also be more selective in the hiring process, ensuring that you find someone you can be confident will provide the best care possible.
Sometimes the best resource for finding home care assistance is through friends and family members who have the same needs. With so many seniors requiring assistance in the home, it’s likely that someone you know and trust has some experience with finding an ideal caregiver. Keep in mind, however, that other people’s aging loved ones may not have the same needs as yours and may require a different level of home care assistance.
Finding a caregiver through personal referrals has similar pros and cons as working through a registry service. While personal networks may help you avoid staffing fees, you likely won’t have nearly as many options to choose from.
How to Pay for Home Care Assistance
While paying out of pocket is the simplest option when it comes to home care assistance, many families don’t have the budget flexibility to do so. Long-term care insurance and some Medicare Advantage plans cover personal, non-medical care under some circumstances. If your loved one is under a doctor’s care and has medical needs that require care to be delivered at home, Medicare may cover the cost of hiring someone to provide home care assistance on a part-time basis. A doctor’s report explaining these needs will be necessary. Every insurance plan is slightly different, so be sure to work closely with your provider to determine what forms of assistance are covered and which are not.
Finding the Best Assistance Home Care with Homethrive
When the time comes to find home care assistance for your aging loved one, you may not be in a position to conduct a thorough search to identify the ideal caregiver for your situation. That’s where we can help. Our experienced Care Guides can connect you to the resources you need to make the best choice for home care assistance and create a care plan that allows your loved ones to age in place comfortably in their own homes. To learn more about our versatile elder care services, contact our team today and find the plan that’s right for you.
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