When looking at care options for a parent who requires assistance, home care is often the preferred choice for older adults who are ambulatory enough to stay in their homes while receiving medical and personal care from professional caregivers.

First, let’s define home health care and home care services. Home health care focuses on medical services to help the elderly or those recovering from an illness or injury. Providers of home health care, also called skilled care, are usually licensed nurses, therapists, or other medical professionals. Home health care is a formal program of care, typically based on a plan recommended by a doctor.

Home care services, often provided by home health aides or personal attendants, include personal care services, such as help with bathing or getting dressed, and homemaking services, such as cleaning, yard work, or cooking. Some home care services, such as Meals on Wheels, are community services that are free or donated.

Is Home Care the Right Choice for Your Parent?

With home care, your parent can remain at home while receiving personalized one-on-one care and attention. Home care generally costs less than care in a nursing home or assisted care facility, especially if your parent’s primary needs are for personal care and homemaking services.

Generally, home care is best suited to individuals who require only temporary part-time skilled nursing services or skilled therapy, as well as for those who can function in their homes with the some support of personal care and homemaking services. Although 24-hour-a-day nursing care is an option, it can be quite expensive and isn’t covered by Medicare and many health insurance plans.

Who Provides Home Care?

If your parent needs help with personal and home care, a home health aide is the usual choice. Aides help with daily personal tasks (such as bathing or dressing), do light housekeeping, shop for groceries and prepare meals, organize a person’s schedule and appointments, and arrange transportation to medical appointments and other outings. You can typically hire an aide as needed by the hour. Many home health agencies have a four-hour minimum, but some are experimenting with a lower minimum.

Other care providers, depending on your parent’s needs, might include nurses, physical therapists, speech pathologists, and other rehabilitation or medical professionals.

Home health care and home care providers often work for home health agencies, hospitals, or public health departments, although some providers do offer independent services. Nurses may work for Visiting Nurse Agencies.

Although a range of services is available, Medicare covers only skilled care through a Medicare-certified home health agency. Other insurers typically cover skilled nursing care, but may or may not cover personal care or homemaking services.

Making the Right Decision

Many factors go into deciding if home care is the right choice for your parent, including your parent’s doctor’s recommendations, your parent’s desires, your or your parent’s ability to coordinate the necessary care, and the financing options available to you or your parent.

This is an important decision worth discussing with your parent, doctors, as well as other family members that may be involved in your parent’s care.

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