Expert Help for Caregiving From Afar
According to the National Institute of Aging, there are some 7 million caregivers living a distance greater than an hour from their loved one. Many of these caregivers rely on frequent telephone check-ins or occasional visits from local friends and neighbors as a means to help keep their elderly or disabled family member in their home as long as possible. But such infrequent eyes and ears on a fragile individual may leave the person vulnerable to health and safety issues. So what can a long distance caregiver do?
Home Health Aides (HHAs) may fill that caregiving gap for the chronically ill, disabled, elderly, and cognitively impaired. The providers are not nurses. HHAs are focused on assisting individuals with typical “activities of daily living” (ADL), such as assisting with showering and dressing as well as helping with other tasks including grocery shopping, cooking, and providing transportation.
But what do such mundane activities have to do with health and safety? A lot once you look a little closer at what a Home Health Aide can do, especially if they are certified, which requires additional training. Seemingly everyday tasks can translate to vital and timely information on faraway loved ones. Some examples:
A Home Health Aide helping with showering/dressing/getting around, can:
• report changes in weight, strength and changes in gait
• report bruising, new pain response or toileting issues that could signify a fall or health issue
• ensure hygiene is maintained and report behavioral changes relating to hygiene--for example, when someone who normally is well groomed suddenly isn’t.
• monitor and correct safety hazards (tripping, lighting, appliances)
A HHA helping with grocery shopping and cooking can:
• help ensure adherence to medical dietary restrictions
• monitor the quantity of food that is in fact being eaten versus tossed out and ensure that more nutritious meals are prepared
• remind a person to drink enough water so as not to get dehydrated
A HHA’s social interaction and companionship, can:
• provide an ideal opportunity to observe memory and mood changes, which is hard to do in a long distant check-up phone call
• remind someone to take medication
• discover a hearing or vision decline, insomnia, or wandering
A HHA providing transportation and handling lite chores, can:
• ensure medical appointments are met
• take their the person out for a walk or on errands, which is good for exercise and helps retain mobility
• ensure things are clean and sanitary, while reporting behavioral concerns (filthy conditions, hoarding, allowing food to spoil)
• lower risk of fracture by handling heavy tasks (vacuuming, heavy lifting)
• uncover behavioral concerns relating to excessive purchasing online or being a victim of scams or fraud
Jane Edwards, a HHA at Partners in Care (an affiliate of the not-for-profit The Visiting Nurse Service of New York), says she, “loves taking care of her patients, helping them and making their lives happier.” Each client is different and she follows his or her individualized plan of care, working with a case manager. A client may have physical therapy, with Edward’s role to remind them to do their daily exercises. A confused and upset client who was trying to climb over the railing one night was provided reassurance by Edwards, who then alerted her case manager and the entire caregiving team to the new dangerous behavior. Everything she observes is logged, so changes in dementia or health are flagged.
Valma Miller is another HHA at Partners in Care. She heard crying one night, but in the morning her client said she was fine. Miller’s intuition said otherwise. She alerted a nurse and took the client to the doctor. The client was found to have water around her heart and could have died had Miller not been so attentive. Often elderly patients are reluctant to report something is wrong, as they fear it may mean they’ll have to leave their homes. Or in the case of dementia, the patient may not understand that something is wrong, such as a new underlying illness.
Having a consistent HHA or team of HHAs is important. An agency can be one alternative, as they will try to schedule a regular HHA for recurring care. The agency can also arrange backups should an HHA be ill. An agency can be a more expensive solution depending on your family member’s needs, so explore your home care options with your local areaagency on aging. Do your homework in researching home health care. There is a wide range of services available, including medical care and skilled nursing. The important thing is to educate yourself on options, and stay as involved as you can, even if from afar.