Home Care: a Growing Long-Term Care Solution
All through 2010, it was hard to miss the growing number of news stories covering what is sometimes called “The Silver Tsunami”—America’s growing senior population. Whether or not you like this term, it is clear that our population is aging, and providing quality care for our nation's older adults is already beginning to challenge our healthcare resources.
This information comes as no surprise to the 65 million Americans who are already serving as family caregivers for older loved ones who need help managing health conditions and the activities of daily living. Many of these caregivers are members of the baby boom generation, who themselves began to reach age 65 this year and are becoming more aware of the need to plan for their own senior living needs. Our legislative entities—from the local to the federal level—are taking notice of the financial impact resulting from this population shift. The discussion about how to best and most cost-effectively care for our seniors is taking center stage.
A host of studies show that most seniors wish to stay in their own homes, even as they experience health challenges such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss. But changes in our society can make this harder than it was in the past:
- A recent study by the University of Michigan showed that almost 40% of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. live alone, and the majority of those who are married have spouses who are themselves facing health challenges.
- Our lower birthrate equals fewer adult children to help out as parents’ care needs increase.
- Adult children are more likely to live at a distance, especially in today’s economy, which has sent many workers even farther afield to find employment.
- A higher divorce rate means more seniors live alone, and family caregivers’ financial and time resources are stretched when parents live in different households, or even in different parts of the country.
The cost of institutional care continues to grow. For some seniors with medically complex health challenges, nursing homes and other residential health facilities may be the best choice. But for many other seniors, home care is the most desirable and cost-effective arrangement.
In a recent study by the RAND Corporation, Dr. Soeren Mattke noted, "The aging of the world’s population and the fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world’s healthcare systems." He added, "Moving more healthcare into the home setting where patients or family members can manage care could be one important solution to these challenges."
Professional in-home caregivers can provide a wide array of care services:
In-home caregivers are trained to provide companionship and homemaking services that support the senior's independence, including laundry and housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, companionship, and respite for family caregivers.
Dementia support is also available. Even when adult children live close to home, dementia complicates the caregiving dynamic. Trained in-home caregivers who understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions can help patients remain home longer, even as the need for assistance and supervision grows.
Visiting nurses and rehabilitation professionals provide skilled medical services in the home. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) perform hands-on procedures such as wound care and IV therapy. Rehabilitation professionals include physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.
Home health aides are trained to provide personal care and help with the activities of daily living, such as feeding assistance, dressing, bathing, toileting, oral hygiene, and getting in and out of bed.
"The growing number of older adults with chronic illnesses poses a serious challenge to the U.S. healthcare system," says Dr. Steven H. Landers of the Cleveland Clinic. "But this challenge is also an opportunity. We may be able to improve the care of these vulnerable patients—and control costs—by taking their primary care to their own homes."
The MetLife Mature Market Institute recently released The Aging in Place Workbook: Your Home as a Care Setting, a free guide seniors and families can use to assess the suitability of the home for an older adult with health challenges, and to anticipate future needs.
NPR recently released a timeline of milestones in long-term care policies, showing the larger part home and community-based care are playing in America’s eldercare system.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.