When a senior adult ends up in the hospital, it’s a stressful time for everyone involved. For many caregivers, that stress doesn’t end when the senior returns home.
A new study published in JAMA shows that more and more post-acute care is falling to non-Medicare reimbursed caregivers—meaning loved ones are taking on a larger share of helping seniors return to health than in previous years.
In the study, researchers surveyed 3,591 study participants aged 69 or older who had returned home after an acute-care hospital stay to determine how many received help with activities of daily living (ADLs) when they returned home.
The study found the percentage of seniors receiving help with ADLs at home after hospital discharge rose from 38.1% in 2011 to 51.5% in 2017. Those receiving help from non-Medicare reimbursed sources also rose from 22.1% to 28.1%.
That means more seniors are receiving unreimbursed help from non-professional caregivers – in other words, from those without formal medical or caregiving training – placing a higher burden of sometimes complicated post-acute care on loved ones and friends.
“While unpaid caregivers may be providing valuable support to family and friends during this critical post-hospital recovery period, it is not clear whether they are equipped to provide sufficient support alone,” the study’s authors concluded. “Caregivers often receive little or inadequate training and are poorly integrated into care teams. The impact of unpaid caregiving on subsequent cost of care and use of acute care services remains unknown. Of equal concern is the burden placed on the caregivers themselves. There is a growing body of evidence that this burden adversely impacts caregivers’ well-being, and it is disproportionately borne by women.”
Preparing for home care
If you’re the caregiver of someone who needs help with ADLs after an acute hospital stay, being prepared before your loved one comes home is important. Asking the right questions and advocating for your loved one needs to happen before your loved one ever leaves the hospital.
Paid home-health aides and nurses have a base of health care knowledge to draw from when they enter a home, but many loved ones who serve as caregivers know little about how to help a person recover from a serious illness or injury. Follow these steps to make sure you have all the information you need about what your loved one will need when they return home.
- Be involved in the discharge process. Discharge planning should be a part of any hospital’s plans before releasing a patient.
- Ask the right questions. Be informed about your loved one’s’ needs when they return home. Ask about any special care they’ll need and any special equipment you might need. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a helpful discharge guide that includes a detailed list of questions to ask.
- Ask for training on any portion of your loved one’s care that you don’t understand.
- Be honest with the hospital staff about any limitations you might have.
- Make sure you have everything in place – including possible respite care for you – lined up at home before your loved one leaves the hospital.
Help for caregivers
Being the caregiver for a loved one who has spent time in the hospital can be difficult and even lonely, but help is available from both local and national organizations.
Family Caregiver Alliance – This not-for-profit focuses on providing information for caregivers and connecting them with resources to meet their needs. They offer useful information about how to care for loved ones with different illnesses and conditions as well as tools to connect caregivers to each other and local services.
Caregiver Action Network – The Caregiver Action Network offers both information and community for caregivers. Their online community can help you get questions answered and connect you with other caregivers dealing with the same issues. This organization also has specific websites aimed at caregivers with specific needs like caring for someone with cancer or being the caregiver for a loved one with a rare disease.
Local resources – Local resources for caregivers vary from location to location, but a good place to start is with your local Area Agency on Aging. Find your local agency by using the Eldercare Locator. You can also contact your local department of health, and many cities, counties and states have departments that oversee programs to help seniors. Local charitable organizations like churches may also be able to connect you with both financial and emotional resources like money for needed equipment, counseling or respite care.
Veterans Administration – If your loved one served in the military, they may be eligible for help from the Veterans Administration, which can include home health care.
Prioritize your own self-care
No matter your loved one’s care needs, with the burden of home health care increasingly falling on unpaid caregivers, it’s important to place a priority on your own health and well-being. If you aren’t well, it will be difficult to nurse your loved one back to health.
Seek out help when you need it, including respite care. When you take care of yourself, both you and your loved one will benefit.