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. Best of all, home care enables aging loved ones to live as safely and independently as possible in their own homes.

In-Home Care Services Are Flexible

One of the biggest advantages of home care services is that they can be customized to accommodate each senior’s unique needs. This care option is extremely flexible and can be increased or dialed back as an elder’s condition declines or improves. In-home care plans are evaluated regularly and evolve along with changes in client’s physical and mental health.

While the difference between unskilled and skilled care is an important part of deciding whether to hire in-home services, it is also useful to understand that home care can be provided with different timeframes in mind. Elder care companies offer both short-term home care and long-term home care 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 home care that can help you decide the type of services a senior may need.


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What Is Short-Term Home Care?

Short-term home care services can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months while a senior is recovering from an illness, injury or surgery. In these instances, home care is a temporary service. For example, some home care companies offer special short-term service packages to help seniors make smooth transitions from the hospital back to their homes. Generally, Medicare only covers short-term home health care services that a doctor deems medically necessary.

Read: Professional Caregivers Ease Hospital-to-Home Transitions

Depending on a 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, walking and transferring, laundry, light housekeeping and meal preparation. Ensuring that a loved one is taking their medications as directed, is eating nutritious meals and does not have to handle chores will help them recuperate faster.

Skilled home care (often referred to as home health care) includes services like wound care, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, physical therapy, speech-language therapy, and occupational therapy. 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. Of course, an in-home care company can provide both unskilled and skilled services simultaneously, depending on a senior’s needs. Once an elder has recovered, these services will no longer be needed.

It is important to mention that some seniors do not make a full recovery after a medical setback. What was supposed to be temporary support at home may evolve into a need for long-term in-home care.

What Does Long-Term Home Care Entail?

Long-term in-home care services are best for seniors who are disabled or living with chronic and/or progressive conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, lung disease, 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. Seniors who wish to continue living at home but need help doing so often make in-home care services a permanent part of their routines.

“If somebody needs help over the long term, the question is, are those needs going to remain relatively consistent or will they increase?” explains Val Halamandaris, former 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. Even providing assistance with ADLs can become very challenging and time-consuming. Skilled nursing tasks, such as injections, wound care, changing a colostomy bag, suctioning secretions from a tracheotomy tube or monitoring a ventilator are often more than most family caregivers can safely take on. Around-the-clock supervision and higher levels of care and training may become necessary.

In these cases, home health care is hired on a long-term basis until the senior’s needs exceed what can be provided in the home. In theory, the same level of care that is provided in nursing homes can be provided by professional caregivers in a home environment. However, 24/7 home care is pricey—especially when it is needed for an extended period. At some point, many families decide that in-home care is no longer the best option. Services usually conclude when an elder moves to a higher level of residential care, such as an assisted living facility, a memory care unit or a nursing home.

Hiring Home Care

Finding the best type of care for an aging loved one can be tricky. Regardless of whether services are intended to be temporary or permanent, in-home care can keep seniors happy and healthy in their own homes and can often delay or completely prevent the need for placement in a long-term care facility.

Do your homework, ask lots of questions and learn as much as possible about your loved one’s health status and current and future needs. If you’ve determined that in-home care is the right fit, you’ll want to seek referrals from physicians, friends and family members and begin the interview and in-home consultation process with providers in your area.

Read: How to Select a Home Care Company

Sources: Home Health Services Coverage (https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/home-health-services); What Is Long-Term Care? (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/caregiving/long-term-care)