EUGENE, Ore. – The holiday season is a time when families come together to celebrate and catch up with each other. But it’s also an important opportunity to discuss weightier matters, such as ongoing care for elderly or infirm parents.
“Families get together over the holidays and compare notes about Mom and Dad,” says Michael Jamieson of Visiting Angels of Eugene, Oregon. “Sometimes they realize that Dad is having a hard time keeping up with the cooking and cleaning now that Mom’s gone, or that he occasionally forgets to take his medicine, or that his driving skills have diminished.”
Despite the challenges of maintaining a household while aging, 90% of seniors want to stay at home. And independent living is the most cost-efficient choice, if it is an option.
“Home care agencies are one of the first resources that families turn to when they want to help their aging parents live independently, at home, as long as possible,” says Lucy Andrews, RN, MS and Vice Chairman of the National Association for Home Care. “Furthermore, home care can help keep them out of the hospital, especially if they have recently been hospitalized.”
According to a recent study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 24% of seniors who go to the hospital are readmitted within 30 days, resulting in both substantial expense and an emotional toll for family members. Yet the same study found that as much as 75% of these readmissions are potentially avoidable, if appropriate care and support are available at home.
Moreover, as of October 2012, hospitals have an additional incentive to better coordinate with family members in transitioning to home care. Under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare can now impose penalties on hospitals for readmissions deemed unnecessary or avoidable.
Andrews shares three services that home care workers provide to help seniors stay in their own homes — and out of the hospital.
As former Surgeon-General C. Everett Koop, MD, once remarked, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” Studies have shown that noncompliance with medication regimens is a major contributor to poor outcomes among patients with treatable ailments, and may result in as many as 125,000 avoidable deaths each year. And approximately 25% of all admissions to nursing homes can be traced to lapses in self-administration of medications.
The difficulties are increased when more than one medication is involved. It has been estimated that, among Seniors aged 65 and older who are taking three or more medications, fully 85% may fail to take their medicines as directed. Other factors, such as memory or vision problems, or the complexity of medication programs for those with chronic illnesses, further compound the challenges faced by caregivers.
Making sure that Seniors are taking their medications properly is one of the key services provided by home care workers, benefiting not only the patients themselves but also reducing worry and stress among their family caregivers.
Proper nutrition is a critical factor in care management for Seniors. Yet all too often, independent Seniors stop cooking hot meals or otherwise neglect their nutritional needs. Besides the negative physical effects (for example, Seniors may have more trouble chewing meat, so many are iron or protein deficient), nutritional neglect is frequently linked to loneliness or depression.
Team Approach to Care
“When a family member steps up as caregiver, they often wish they had someone else on their team to share the burden of increased responsibilities. That’s where we come in,” says Jamieson.
Visiting Angels of Eugene uses ClearCare, a web-based point-of-care system that facilitates team care. It allows family members near and far to log on for real-time updates on their loved ones. In addition, the point-of-care system integrates seamlessly into a comprehensive back office system for the agency.
So, for instance, “If a worker misses a shift, I know immediately, and I can instantly distribute a group text message to all of my appropriately skilled caregivers requesting back-up for that shift,” says the agency’s Ed Emberlin. “It allows me and my staff to see instantly what’s happening in the home, so we can react, respond, and report back to the family, right away.”
Moreover, the range of services provided by today’s home-care agencies may include everything from transportation and housekeeping services to companionship/socialization and even help with pet care. All of these services can be scheduled, managed and tracked using the ClearCare system.
This type of technology is a natural solution for many family members in the “sandwich generation” – adults age 45 to 55 who are taking care of their own children and their aging parents.
“This is an age group that’s comfortable with technology, and they’re used to employing it in their professional lives to solve problems,” says Geoffrey Nudd, CEO of ClearCare, the online service that facilitates communication between consumers and professional caregivers. “They’re finding that it makes sense to bring in technology-based solutions when they’re facing particular challenges in caring for their aging loved ones.”
“Caring for those who need our help is a basic human instinct,” says Andrews, who uses ClearCare with her family clients. “Technology can make it easier for people to fulfill that need and care for those we love.”