This article was first published in Consumer Reports and is written by Kevin Loria.
Assistance with personal care, finances, errands, and more can help older people protect their independence and live at home longer. Here’s some advice about where to turn.
When it comes to hiring help around the house for yourself or a family member, the first step is deciding it’s time.
Some people act early, setting up a support system before things start to slip, says Carolyn Clevenger, DNP, a gerontological nurse practitioner and professor at the Emory School of Nursing. Others wait until after a worrisome occurrence, like a fall while cleaning or getting lost during an errand. Families also sometimes take action if they see piles of unopened mail, moldy food, or dents in a car, says Amy Goyer, a family and caregiving expert for AARP and the author of “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving” (American Bar Association, 2015).
Types of Help Available
It can be difficult to figure out on your own exactly what kind of help is needed, Goyer says. Instead, start with some expert advice.
Reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging. It can connect you with home- and community-based services and may also be able set up an in-home assessment.
You can find a geriatric care manager via the Aging Life Care Association, who can help you make a long-term plan, says Camille Vaughan, MD, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Emory Center for Health in Aging.
A certified aging-in-place specialist (find one through the National Association of Home Builders) can recommend home renovations to make things safer or more comfortable.
Each person has distinct needs that require different kinds of help and expertise, Vaughan says. Here are some types of help you might consider.
Companionship: Sometimes a helper is needed to combat loneliness and get you out of the house more often.
Finances: You may want to have a family member or close friend handle tasks like finances and bill paying if those are falling through the cracks, Goyer says.
Finding and Paying for Help
There are two primary ways to find home help, Goyer says: either hiring people directly or going through an agency.
Many people rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from family, friends, or faith communities to hire someone directly. You can also check websites like Care.com to find caregivers in your area, Clevenger says, though you’ll be responsible for vetting them appropriately. You can often save money by hiring someone on your own. Just be very specific about how you want things done.
If you go through an agency (compare options at medicare.gov/care-compare), you might not get the same person every visit, but the agency should be able to provide coverage when your usual helper is sick. Agencies should also be able to offer a wide variety of services.
Most services aren’t fully covered by health insurance or Medicare, Vaughan says. Long-term-care insurance can help, as can Medicaid. Veterans Affairs also provides assistance for home care for those eligible for VA healthcare, she adds. And your local Area Agency on Aging may offer free or low-cost help with meals, cleaning, yardwork, and more.
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