U.S. Census figures show that fewer older adults are choosing to receive care in a nursing home. Yet the projections also show major growth in the number of seniors who are living with chronic illness. 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 Census information comes as little 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 are reaching the age when they themselves might be expected to need care! From the local to the federal level, government agencies, too, 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.
The Census study showed that 90% of seniors would wish to receive care in their own homes. Is this realistic? Can they be safe and well-cared for even if they are living with age-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss?
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.
Finding the Right Home Care Services
The first step is to assess the person’s needs. Make a realistic list of home and personal care tasks the person needs help with. Work with the person’s health care provider to get an accurate picture of the person’s medical requirements.
The second step is to locate the right home care provider. A reputable home care agency is the safest choice—both for your loved one’s well-being and your own peace of mind.
Some families have gone through the informal network or “gray market,” hiring a home helper through a classified ad, Craigslist, a nurse registry or through word of mouth. But before you go this route, ask yourself whether you really want to become the person’s employer, with all the risks and responsibilities that the role entails? Think about these factors:
- You would be responsible for withholding and reporting income taxes and paying Social Security taxes. This can be very complicated and could also leave you open to having to pay back taxes and penalties.
- If the caregiver were to be injured while working, you could end up paying the medical bills. The caregiver could file a workman’s compensation claim or even file a lawsuit against you or your family.
- It would be up to you to check certificates, licenses, references and criminal background…and to protect against elder abuse and financial exploitation.
- You would be responsible for determining whether the care provider knows how to safely care for your loved one. For example, if your family member needs to be transferred from a wheelchair, you would need to be sure that the care provider knows how to do this safely.
- You cannot try to hire someone on a seven-day-per-week basis. No employee can be a good employee for long without having time for personal needs and interests. So, you would need to plan for days off, vacation time and other times when the caregiver cannot be available.
- If problems arise, you would be on your own in working things out as an employer. This includes discipline and termination.
Given the burden of finding, hiring, training and functioning as an employer, going to an agency instead provides numerous advantages. An experienced caregiver arrives pre-screened, trained and under the supervision of the agency. You don’t have to worry about tax withholding, or liability. If the caregiver doesn’t arrive, it’s the agency’s responsibility to provide a backup.
Hiring qualified, reputable home care aides can help meet your family’s needs and greatly extend the ability of seniors to live safely and comfortably at home.