Home Care: Closing the Gap for Long-Distance Caregivers
November 9, 2016 | Home and Family
Anyone who’s struggled to manage the long-distance care of a loved one knows all too well the guilt and anxiety that come with not being close by. What if Mom falls down the stairs and I can’t get there right away? Is Dad taking his medication? How do I know if they’re eating well?
It’s easy to let your mind wander to the worst-case “What if?” scenarios when you’re separated by miles. And many are. A new report from the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) and the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) shows seniors live an average of more than 280 miles from their nearest (adult) child. In many cases, the kids have moved away to pursue their own careers. In others, Mom and Dad made the move, often retiring to a warmer climate. Either way, distance is the new reality for many of today’s families.
At the same time, aging Americans want to remain independent, and for most that means staying in their home. According to a 2010 AARP survey, nearly 90 percent of those over age 65 want to stay in their residence for as long as possible.
Those two factors—the desire for independence and the scattering of nuclear families—have combined to create a relatively new and thriving industry: home care.
What Is Home Care?
Home care refers to non-medical care provided to people who need help with day-to-day activities such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, laundry, light housekeeping, grocery shopping and driving to a doctor’s appointment—the very things a son or daughter might do for their parents if they lived nearby.
Home care is provided by independent caregivers or through for-profit home care agencies—with names such as Senior Helpers, Synergy, Visiting Angels and Right at Home. In both cases, not only do caregivers provide much-needed personal services and companionship, they become the eyes and ears of long-distance loved ones, reporting changes in condition or providing assurance that Mom and/or Dad is comfortable and safe at home.
The business of home care is booming. In the past five years, the industry has grown by more than 50 percent, according to a 2016 Home Care Benchmarking Study, and is slated to continue growing throughout the next few decades, as Baby Boomers age.
If home care is something you want to consider for a loved one (or for yourself), be sure to consider the following.
1. Level of Care: You or someone you trust will first need to assess the level of care that your loved one needs. Does Mom need help getting dressed? Paying bills? Getting to the doctor? The Family Caregiver Alliance offers a free handbook that includes a checklist of potential care needs you can use to get started.
2. Cost: Nationwide, home care agencies charge an average rate of about $20 per hour to provide services. Hiring an independent caregiver may be slightly more affordable. In either case, the cost can vary greatly depending on location and the level of services provided. With few exceptions, personal home care is not covered by Medicare, so it’s important to have a plan in place to pay for services.
3. Quality: It’s also important to make sure you choose a quality provider.
If you are thinking about hiring a home care worker through an agency, check to see if the service provider is accredited by The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs in the U.S. And as you further evaluate potential service providers, take these steps:
- Make sure the agency and its caregivers are licensed and insured by the state in which the services are provided, often by the state’s Department of Health.
- Ask about the agency’s process for screening employees; consider only those that run criminal background checks on caregivers.
- Make sure the agency can assign a caregiver who has been specifically trained to meet the unique needs of your loved one, such as someone who’s qualified to care for those with dementia.
- Understand how (and how often) you’ll receive reports about what the caregiver observes.
- Ask how often a supervisor will accompany the caregiver to observe the level of care.
- Learn the process for what happens if a caregiver isn’t a good fit for your loved one.
If you are thinking about hiring an independent caregiver, you’ll assume the role of employer. And that comes with a host of responsibilities, including:
- Finding, screening and interviewing candidates.
- Conducting background checks, checking references and licenses (if required). According to caring.com, caregivers who help with the tasks of day-to-day living, such as cooking, companionship and personal care, may not need to be licensed, although some states are in the process of changing those requirements.
- Negotiating a salary.
- Setting up a system to withhold legally required taxes.
- Managing his or her performance.
- Making sure the existing renter’s or homeowner’s insurance covers household employees, in case the caregiver gets hurt on the job.
But if you’re willing to take on those responsibilities, privately hiring a home care worker can have benefits:
- You’ll choose the person you believe is the best fit for your loved one.
- Your loved one may develop a more meaningful and trusting relationship with a caregiver he or she sees regularly.
- Privately hired care may be less expensive than going through an agency.
Whether you consider working with an independent caregiver or going through an agency, hiring someone to help care for your loved one will benefit the entire family. Mom and Dad will get the attention and care they need (and may be able to stay in their home longer), and you’ll feel better knowing a second set of hands, eyes and ears are checking in on them when you can’t be there.
Get more information about the pros, cons and considerations when hiring a caregiver on the website for the Family Caregiver Alliance.