Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Difficulties of Home Care

We now have hired caregivers in the house 24 hours a day, plus Mom is in hospice so we have nurses aids coming twice a week and a nurse once a week. They are all fantastic people and Kendal at Home is working hard to coordinate our caregivers from Caringtree and the aids and nurses from Hospice of the Western Reserve. The problem is that providing care in the home is difficult. Actually, providing good care at home or in an institution is difficult too, but for different reasons. So, let's talk about some of the issues in home health care and how to manage them.

The first thing is that hiring a caregiver from any of the home health agencies does not mean you are getting a medical professional. These caregivers are great but some may only know how to do tasks like grocery shop, cook, and clean. Others may only be companions. When your loved one gets sicker, like Mom, you really need to explain exactly what you need in order to get the right person. The problem is, most of us do not know what we need as we are not doctors or nurses ourselves. Fortunately my Dad is a doctor and so he notices when someone is feeding Mom too fast and she could aspirate or choke. Dad and I have both been in hospitals enough to know Mom needs to be turned every two hours to prevent breakdown of her skin (bed sores). She also needs fluids every few hours and must have her incontinence briefs changed. She has to be lifted out of the bed with people trained on how to use a Hoyer lift. She really needs constant supervision and medical aid for her tasks of daily living (toileting, cleaning, and eating) and these need to be done in a way that are safe for her which means you need medical training.

When a family calls a home health agency for help, we assume since this is their profession they can assess the situation and know exactly what needs to be done and the skill level needed for the caregivers. This is not true. And, that is not saying anything against the agency. I think what is happening is that home health care is new, there are few regulations, and they are figuring out how to get everyone trained for every possible situation within the federal regulations of what kind of care non-medical professionals can provide.
Hoyer lift in Mom's room. We now have a hospital bed for her.

So, here are some of the things I suggest you ask in order to get the right caregivers in your home. Help the home health agency figure out if you need a caregiver, nurses aid, or nurse because they are all different. A caregiver can feed someone who can not feed themselves, but they may not be trained to feed people who have difficulty swallowing and could aspirate like a nurse would be trained to do.
  1. If your loved one can't feed or drink for themselves ask if the caregiver has been trained for proper feeding of people with swallowing difficulties. Does the caregiver know how to avoid aspiration of foods and liquids and what do they do if it happens or the person chokes?
  2. If you have equipment in the home, will there be at least one caregiver on duty who knows how to use the equipment at all times. Have them show you how they use it, and practice on you, not your loved one. Mom got dropped out of the Hoyer a few times. 
  3. Ask questions like: How often will you be changing her briefs? (should be every two hours or when soiled) How often will you turn and reposition him? (should be every two hours) How will you engage with her when she is non-responsive yet awake? (They should read to them, talk with them, play music for them, engage with them, not just let them sit in a chair or bed.)
  4. Always watch all new caregivers perform all tasks before you leave them alone with your loved one. Each situation is different and your parent, friend, or child deserves personal care so make sure the care is tailored to their needs.
  5. Always kindly ask for what you need and never feel like you ask too many questions. These agencies really want to care for your loved one well and with dignity but this really is a new area for all of us so they are open to feedback and working together with you.
  6. Thank your caregivers when they do something well. Let the coordinator of the home health care agency know when the caregivers have gone above and beyond.
  7. Don't panic! One or even a few mismatched caregivers does not mean you will never find the right ones. It takes an adjustment period but it will work out. 
Our experience has shown me that communication is key. We trust that the organizations we are working with are good people who really care about Mom, and that is important. If you feel they don't, then find a different group.  Fortunately for us, the people we are working with are great and trying to get Mom the best care possible. As we have found good matches for caregivers, some of them have brought music for Mom to listen to, talk with her, Mom has NO bed sores (this is amazing), they advocate on her behalf if they think a new caregiver might not be a good fit or if we all need more training on some new medical equipment.

While it may be stressful at times, our little army of people keeps talking in order to find out what is best. And every time families and home health agencies work together, the more we learn and can create a better system for everyone going forward.


Rev. Katie


  1. Hiring full-time caregivers round the clock can be immensely challenging and I admire the effort that you give for your mom. In my case, I wish I could have done the same but thanks to the urgent care delaware that took care of the job for my family.

    1. Zoie,
      I am glad that there was a good resource for you in your area to help with care. If we choose home care or facility care, it is all about what works best for your loved one and family.

  2. Caregivers are like 24 hour urgent care who can render their time and service to your family especially when you're so busy and you usually don't have time for emergencies or accidents.

    1. So true Kierran. I am so grateful to have someone else around to help with emergencies.

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