Home Health Care Can be Short- or Long-Term

Adult children with aging parents will most likely face decisions regarding home health care. The more common experience is a parent who has suffered a fall or undergone surgery and needs extra help at home for a few weeks. More services or even skilled care may be needed if your aging loved one is battling a debilitating disease such as Parkinson’s or dementia that requires more substantial and ongoing care. A home health care provider might be able to meet all those needs while enabling the elder to continue living as independently as possible at home.

The important thing is finding an agency that will listen to and understand your parent’s needs. They should offer both short-term and long-term services so that their individual care plan can be adjusted as the situation changes.

The chance of having the same caregiver visit your parent’s home or your home for temporary or long-term care depends on your parent’s needs as well as the provider you decide to use. "The Director of Nursing for a home health agency is an expert in deciding which nurse or caregiver would the be best fit for your parent, depending on the issues at hand," says Val Halamandaris, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice.

Below is a brief description highlighting the differences between short- and long-term services that can help you decide what might be appropriate for your loved one.

What is Short-Term Care? 

These services last several weeks or a few months while someone is recovering from a sudden illness, injury or surgery from which they are expected to recover. In these instances, home care is a beneifcial temporary solution. Depending on the senior’s situation, one professional caregiver may be assigned or several. If they need help with things like bathing, dressing, mobility and preparing meals, a “custodial caregiver” who provides assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) will visit the home while your parent recuperates.

It is possible a skilled nurse may be needed for dressing wounds, dispensing medications and monitoring vital signs. Following a stroke, a visiting physical or speech therapist might also be needed to help your parent learn to walk or speak again. Once your loved one has recovered, these services will no longer be needed. At that point, the relationship with the agency ends.

What Does Long-Term Care Entail?

These services are generally prescribed for those with chronic and/or progressive conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia or a debilitating stroke. This is because the elder requires regular skilled medical care. In some cases, around-the-clock assistance and more complex levels of care and training are required, therefore a registered nurse (RN) visiting the home may be the best option.

Most family members have no experience or training in caring for a chronically ill person at home. Bathing Mom or Dad is one thing, but changing a colostomy bag, suctioning secretions from a tracheotomy tube or monitoring a ventilator is more than most family members can safely take on. In these particular cases, home care will be provided on a long-term basis and needed until the elder can no longer live safely at home. Services will likely conclude when the elder moves to an assisted living facility or nursing home, or until they pass away.

“If somebody needs help over the long term, the question is, are those needs going to remain relatively consistent or will they increase?” Halamandaris says. “If the situation is becoming more complex, you will need to gradually add more services.” Sometimes a nurse practitioner, or even a physician, may need to come to the home if an elder is experiencing more complex problems, but does not need to be hospitalized.

Costs for Care

The pricing structure and payment options for home health care rely on a few different factors. First, the level of care your parent requires will influence the cost. A custodial aide visiting the home a couple days a week to help with bathing and companionship will be less expensive than a skilled nurse who visits daily, or even several times a day. Second, the area of the country in which your parent lives is another factor. People in more heavily populated areas like New York City and San Francisco typically pay higher prices for care than those who live in more rural areas.

However, the price of home health care should not be driven by whether the services are needed for the short term or long term. 

The best solution is to do your homework, ask lots of questions and know as much about the type of care your loved one needs as possible. Understanding pricing structures before signing a contract is as important as finding the right caregiver for your parent. After you have done some research online or sought referrals from physicians, friends and family members, you'll want to begin the interview and in-home consultation process with agencies and providers in your area.

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