Whether Dad just needs help around the house for a few weeks after he’s discharged from the hospital or Mom requires around-the-clock dementia care, in-home care can meet these needs and everything in between while enabling clients to live as independently as possible at home.

One of the biggest advantages of home care services is that they can be customized to accommodate a senior’s unique needs. This care option is extremely flexible and can be increased or dialed back as their condition declines or improves.

While the difference between unskilled and skilled care is an important part of deciding to hire in-home services, it is also useful to understand that home care can be provided with different timeframes in mind. Home care companies offer both short-term and long-term services so that individual care plans can be adjusted to meet a senior’s needs.

Read: The Difference Between Home Health Care and Non-Medical Home Care Services

Below are brief descriptions highlighting the differences between short- and long-term services that can help you decide the type of services a senior may need.

What is Short-Term Home Care?

Short-term home care services can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months while someone is recovering from an illness, injury or surgery. In these instances, home care is a beneficial temporary solution. For example, some home care companies offer special short-term services to help seniors make smooth transitions from the hospital back to their homes.

Read: Professional Caregivers Ease Hospital-to-Home Transitions

Depending on the senior’s needs, one or more professional caregivers may be assigned. A “custodial caregiver” can provide unskilled assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and household tasks like bathing, dressing, mobility, laundry and preparing meals. Ensuring that a loved one is getting their medications and groceries and that they do not have to see to chores will help them recuperate faster.

Skilled care may be provided in the home for dressing wounds, dispensing medications, monitoring vital signs, or providing physical, speech, or occupational therapies. For example, following a stroke, a visiting physical therapist might be needed on a short-term basis to help a senior regain their balance and coordination. Once your loved one has recovered, these services will no longer be needed.

What Does Long-Term Home Care Entail?

Long-term services are generally for seniors with chronic and/or progressive conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In these instances, regular assistance and care are required, and the client’s needs are likely to increase. “If somebody needs help over the long term, the question is, are those needs going to remain relatively consistent or will they increase?” says Val Halamandaris, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. “If the situation is becoming more complex, you will need to gradually add more services.”

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 caregivers can safely take on. In these particular cases, skilled home care is hired on a long-term basis until the senior’s needs exceed what can be provided in the home. Around-the-clock supervision and higher levels of care and training may become necessary, therefore home health care may no longer be the best option. Services usually conclude when the elder moves to an assisted living facility or nursing home.

Hiring Home Care

The best solution is to do your homework, ask lots of questions and know as much as possible about the type of care your loved one needs. 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 providers in your area.

Read: How to Select a Home Care Company