By Marlo Sollitto, AgingCare.com editor
Maybe you’ve noticed that dad’s unopened mail is piling up. Or mom, once meticulous about her appearance, is wearing wrinkled clothes and not doing her hair. Perhaps there are bruises on your aging parent’s arms. When you bring up the subject, you hear, “Everything is fine. There’s no need to worry.”
Admitting they need help would mean they can’t take care of themselves anymore, and no one wants to lose their independence. “Denial is the unrealistic hope that a problem is not really happening and will go away by itself. Admitting they need help and accepting assistance is not easy for people as they age. It represents a loss of independence. Denial plays a major role Ė and signs get ignored,” says Paul Hogan, Founder and Chairman of Home Instead Senior Care.
The burden often falls on the family to recognize the signs that an aging parent might need help with daily living tasks.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that your loved one has to go to assisted living or a nursing home, but they may need some extra help in their home. If they’re not willing to admit it, how do you know if your elderly parent needs home care? Here are some warning signs to look for:
- Spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown away
- Missing important appointments
- Unexplained bruising
- Trouble getting up from a seated position
- Difficulty with walking, balance and mobility
- Uncertainty and confusion when performing once-familiar tasks
- Unpleasant body odor
- Infrequent showering and bathing
- Strong smell of urine in the house
- Noticeable decline in grooming habits and personal care
- Dirty house, extreme clutter and dirty laundry piling up
- Stacks of unopened mail or an overflowing mailbox
- Late payment notices, bounced checks and calls from bill collectors
- Poor diet or weight loss
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Changes in mood or extreme mood swings
- Forgetting to take medications – or taking more than the prescribed dosage
- Diagnosis of dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s Disease
- Unexplained dents and scratches on a car
Once you know that there is a problem, how do you know if home care is right for your parent?
Home care is generally defined as non-medical support services delivered at the home of the senior. “The aim of home care is to allow seniors to remain at home longer rather than enter an assisted living community, nursing home or other type of senior care. Home care may be appropriate if a senior prefers to stay at home but needs minor assistance with activities of daily living,” says Sam Almengor, National Accounts Director for Senior Helper, a national company that provides professional in-home assistance services.
“One of the most frightening prospects for seniors is leaving home. Home Instead Senior Care is helping seniors stay in their homes as long as possible,” Hogan says.
What services can your parent get from home care? Home care agencies help with any activities and needs that a person needs throughout the day. Services include:
- Companionship and conversation
- Grocery shopping
- Meal planning and preparation
- Diet monitoring
- Hygiene assistance, including bathing and dressing
- Light housekeeping
- Walking assistance
- Errands and transportation
- Laundry, ironing and vacuuming
- Change linens and bed making
- Help with bills and mail
- Supervise home maintenance and repairs
- Organize closets and pantries
- Medication reminders
- Help with correspondence
- Wash dishes
- Appointment reminders
- Coordinate home services
- Pick-up prescriptions
- General shopping
- Review phone messages
- Watch movies and play games
How to start the conversation about home care
If you’ve noticed the warning signs, the time to start talking with senior parents sooner rather than later, when a crisis has occurred. But how do you bring up sensitive subjects related to aging, such as the need for home care? Home Instead recommends some conversation starters that might help overcome the awkwardness.
Approach your parents with a conversation. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask your parents what they think is going on. If your parents acknowledge the situation, ask what they think would be good solutions. If your parents don’t recognize a problem, use concrete examples to support your case.
Remember you are talking to an adult, not a child. Patronizing speech or baby talk will put older adults on the defensive and convey a lack of respect for them. Put yourself in your parents’ shoes and think of how you would want to be addressed in the situation.
How is Home Care Paid For?
Home care companies typically bill on an hourly basis for their services – and that rate varies widely depending on where you live. Paying for home care services is one of the most challenging issues for caregivers because most elders and families must pay for services out-of-pocket. Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for home care in most instances. Here are some other options to pay for elder care:
Some health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and some health and long-term care insurance plans provide coverage for home health care, so be sure to check benefits statements and policies
Long-term care insurance
Long-term care insurance helps cover the cost of care at home or in a nursing facility. It can cover much of the cost of home care – depending on the policy terms.
If your loved one served in the U.S. military, financial assistance might be available to provide a veteran with home care.
State and local programs
Call your local Department of Aging or Area Agency on Aging. In many states, there are local and state funded programs that offer limited care for seniors who meet certain criteria.
Viatical life settlements
If your loved one has a life insurance policy, there are companies that offer insurance owners the option to sell their policies in exchange for a lump sum payment that is greater than the cash surrender value.
For low-income elders, Medicaid programs in most states support home care services as an alternative to nursing homes.