Homecare From A Distance

Is living at home the best option for your aging or infirm loved one? It’s an important question for the long-distance caregiver to ask.

No one wants to leave the comfort of familiar surroundings for a strange new place, but many people reach the point where they can’t perform important daily activities—like cooking or shopping—and are no longer able to live on their own. If your aging or infirm loved one wants to live independently, you need to make sure it’s safe for him or her to do so.

First, evaluate your loved one’s current needs. Can he or she still drive, pay bills, or walk long distances? Is he or she able to perform routine daily activities like cooking and housekeeping? Does your loved one have trouble using the telephone or maintaining proper hygiene? A consultation with a caregiving professional can address any questions you have and help you anticipate future needs. Your knowledge of family history combined with a professional’s ability to assess and anticipate your loved one’s situation will enable you to develop an individualized blueprint for long-distance care.

Environmental Modifications

If your loved one is able to live at home, you might want to perform a few simple environmental modifications that will help making living at home a safer and more comfortable option. Do a full house check:

  • Do bathrooms have grab bars and non-slip accommodations?
  • If the furniture organized to reduce the risk of potential falls?
  • Are door locks safe and easy to operate?

In addition, your loved one may be eligible for free modifications to the home that will increase independence and allow him or her to remain at home longer. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, you might have to widen doorways. Other medical equipment might require installation of special electric or plumbing systems.

If you loved can still live at home but is no longer able to drive, there are other options that can supplement his or her independent lifestyle. Mental health services provide assessment, emergency, and outpatient treatment. Local nutrition programs may provide meals in a group setting, or deliver meals to your loved one’s home. Adult day care might be an ideal choice if your loved one can no longer get out and about on his or her own. Some such services include transportation, and they can provide your loved one with the opportunity to interact with others and get out of the house for a while. Also check your loved one’s community for information on volunteer organizations that offer chore, housework, or home repair services.

Long-Distance Caregiving Help

If your loved one lives at home but needs help with certain activities, there are a variety of professional home-health agencies that offer a full range of services. After assessing your loved one’s needs, decide which type of home-care worker is most appropriate.

  • Home-health nurses, therapists, or certified aides provide in-home medical care when it’s authorized by a physician. Home health care may include help with medications, exercises, wound care, or monitoring medical conditions.
  • A housekeeper or chore worker performs basic household tasks and light cleaning.
  • A homemaker or personal care worker provides personal care, assistance with medication, meal planning, and household management.
  • A companion or live-in provides personal care, light housework, exercise, companionship, and medication reminders. These aides will usually work for a lower salary in exchange for room and board.
  • A private care manager is the ideal solution for any and all needs, especially during long-distance caregiving situations. A care manager not only provides continuous assessment but also can arrange and monitor any services provided privately or through community concerns.

When hiring a home-care worker yourself, be sure that the prospective employee has the necessary qualifications and/or training. Ask to see training certificates, particularly if your loved one has special medical needs.

Home-health agencies can cut through most of your hiring headaches. Not only do they have a ready supply of workers to suit your loved one’s needs, they maintain a level of professionalism by making sure employee certifications and licenses are current. Also, they’re obligated to provide solutions to any problems your loved one may have with workers. When deciding on a home-health agency, the Administration on Aging recommends asking the following questions:

  • What type of employee screening is done?
  • Is the employee paid by the agency or the caregiver?
  • Who supervises the worker?
  • What types of general and specialized training have the workers received?
  • Who do you call if the worker doesn’t come?
  • What are the fees and what do they cover?
  • Is there a sliding fee scale?
  • What are the minimum and maximum hours of service?
  • Are there limitations in terms of tasks performed or times of day when services are furnished?

Private Care Managers

If you can afford it, a private care manager is the best way to care for your loved one from a distance. Care managers provide a multitude of services to ensure that all of your loved one’s needs are being met. Care managers can:

  • Assess health and lifestyle concerns on an ongoing basis and report back to you
  • Determine eligibility for community program assistance
  • Screen, arrange, and monitor in-home help or other services
  • Review financial, legal, or medical issues and offer referrals to specialists to avoid future problems and conserve assets
  • Provide crisis intervention
  • Help move your loved one to or from a retirement complex, care home, or nursing home
  • Provide consumer advocacy
  • Offer counseling and support

Private care managers are an excellent resource for providing detailed reports on your loved one’s health and lifestyle needs. You can advertise for one, but care management agencies have a stable of certified and licensed care managers with references.

Monitoring Your Loved One’s Health

If the cost of a care manager is prohibitive, find out about local resources that will ensure that your loved one’s basic needs are being met.

  • Many communities offer cost-free programs like “Are You Okay,” in which local law-enforcement officials make weekly visits to elderly people who are living independently.
  • Telephone reassurance systems—sponsored by a local Agency on Aging, the Red Cross, or other such organization—will make routine calls to your loved one to make sure he or she is okay.
  • Some corporations offer care monitoring in various forms. For instance, one company offered an eldercare pager program, whereby the company provided a pager, at no cost, to employees with eldercare needs.
  • If you have any inkling that your loved one is suffering from any form of abuse or neglect contact Adult Protective Services in your loved one’s locality. APS will investigate possible abuse, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment and provide short-term emergency services to adults in need of protection.

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