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The majority of caregiving in the United States comes from unpaid family caregivers. And they need help. Many families turn to private caregiving agencies or home health companies to get the care they need for their loved ones. The terminology and new load of responsibilities can be confusing and complicated. We are here to sort it all out so you can take advantage of professional caregiving and get the support you need and deserve.

As a family caregiver, there may come a time when you might need home care to keep a loved one safe and happy. As caregiver stress and burnout increase, a reliance on home health and home care aides can be a necessary and beneficial choice. State rules and regulations dictate the training that home care and home health aides must have and the tasks they can perform for your family member. Home Care Assistance is here to explain the differences so you can optimize support for your family.

What is a Home Health Aide?

First, some terminology will help. Home health applies to Medicare (and other insurance) medical and therapy services, although people often use the terms home health and home care interchangeably. Medicare-covered home health is time-limited, and you must meet strict requirements to qualify for services. There must be a nursing need, a doctor’s order, and the patient must be homebound. Home health aides are a critical part of home health in that they provide hands-on care to the patient that supports nursing and other therapies.

Home health aide certification and licensing requirements differ across the country. Some home health agencies will have both home health aides and certified nursing assistants on their staff. A certified nursing assistant (CNA) will have additional medical training and must pass a state exam. Home health agencies use both since patients have a variety of needs and may not require a CNA. Home health aides can do the following depending on state requirements:

Assist with Activities of Daily Living. Bathing, dressing, eating, and grooming assistance.

Checking vital signs. Keeping a record of blood pressure, respiration, and pulse.

Monitor a client's physical condition. They monitor any physical changes and communicate these changes to the client’s family and medical team.

Emergency response. Home health aides have the training to respond appropriately to accidents or medical emergencies such as heart attack and stroke.

CNA’s may perform more medical duties. They can be authorized to do wound and catheter care, administer medications and perform other medical duties.

Medicare does not allow home health aides to do housekeeping, transportation, companionship, shopping, or cooking. Those duties are where Home Care Assistance can make the difference between recovery or continued decline once the home health benefit has expired.

What is a Home Care Aide?

A home care aide is often called a personal care aide or companion/caregiver. Home care aides can offer various tasks and services depending again on the state where they work. Home care aides are not covered through insurance except long-term care insurance if you have a policy. The advantage of having a home care aide is that they can do what the client needs (depending on state-approved requirements) for as few or many hours as needed. A home care aide can help with:

  • Activities of daily living. Bathing, dressing, hygiene, transferring, and assistance with toileting.
  • Shopping and cooking. Caregivers can help with grocery shopping and meal preparation.
  • Running errands. Picking up prescriptions or taking your loved one on outings to the park, shopping, or other preferred activities.
  • Provide companionship. Caregivers can be a great source of companionship and reduce loneliness in seniors.
  • Minimal medical assistance. Remaining seniors to take medications, do glucose checks, and perform other minimal medical duties in some states.
  • Light housekeeping. They can help around the home with light housekeeping and laundry.

Caring for Seniors: How Home Care and Home Health Work Together

Home care and home health working together are the best of both worlds. By combining the two, seniors can live in their own homes and work towards recovery and independence. When a patient qualifies for home health medical and therapy services, they often have needs that exceed what home health is allowed to do under Medicare rules. This is where home care comes in.

For example, if someone breaks a hip, they need physical, occupational, and nursing care. Home health offers all of those services. The person may also need assistance with shopping, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and medication reminders. A home care agency like Home Care Assistance has professional home care caregivers to provide these tasks and keep your loved one cared for and safe.

Home care does not require a physician’s order, and there is no time limit. Home care and home health care often work together to provide all of the support your loved one needs. Your family member may need much more help than home health can offer under Medicare. Unless the family is willing to provide that care, supplementing with home care is the best option. Once home health care finishes, home care can continue indefinitely with the flexibility that the family needs.

The Benefits of Having a Caregiver

Whether it is through the home health benefit or home care, the benefits of having a caregiver can reduce stress for family caregivers, help your loved one stay safe, and improve their functioning and independence. Overall, a caregiver can help:

● Help with recovery after an illness or accident

● Monitor activities, medication intake, and general health activities

● Provide companionship

● Encourage independence by reinforcing good health habits

● Communicating physical or cognitive changes to family members/care team

● Proper emergency response

The strain on family caregiving is growing as our population ages. Whether through a home health or home care aide, professional caregivers can ease the burden on families while maintaining the quality of life for your loved one.


Home Health Aide Training Requirements

About the Author(s)

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of Choose Your Place: Rethinking Home as You Age (November 2020) and of Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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