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Home Healthcare Grows as Option for the Aged

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Deciding how to care for an ill or incapacitated parent or loved one can be difficult. For the millions of people who find themselves in the "sandwich generation" raising their own children and caring for aging parents at the same time home health care is becoming the preferred option to placing a loved one in a nursing home.

Ken Wessel has seen the dilemma faced by many in this situation.

"Making a decision on the care of a loved one can create incredible tension within a family," said Wessel, executive director of HomeCare Options, a non-profit home health care agency in Passaic County, New Jersey that was established in 1954. "People want to maintain the health and independence of their parents or relatives as best as they can, but it can be difficult sorting out the available alternatives."

More than ten million elderly Americans need help today with such basics as bathing and dressing, preparing meals and other activities of daily living. Many more need nursing attention. And with the percentage of senior citizens expected to increase sharply by the year 2020 - by about 50 percent - from 35.5 million persons in 2000 to 52.6 million persons, the problem will not simply disappear.

Many families continue to care for dependent parents at home. This, however, may become impractical when the caretaker works, has children of her own, or the parents suddenly require greater medical assistance than she can provide.

"In addition to the stigma attached to placing a parent in a nursing home, studies have

shown that the elderly respond much better and feel more comfortable in their own homes," said Wessel. "However, this places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a family member. Few are prepared to simply check the help wanted ads, or should they. They really need to educate themselves."

According to Wessel, those considering home health care, need to ask the following questions of any agency they are considering:

How long have you been in business?

Have you personally checked this persons references and is he or she bonded?

Is there a registered nurse who supervises on a regular basis?

Is there a trained coordinator available by telephone 24-7? (a requirement for licensed facilities)

Are your home health care workers certified or licenses by the state?

How long have they worked in the agencys employ?

Is the agency accredited by a recognized accrediting body?

Is the agency licensed by the state?

Licensed by the State of New Jersey, HomeCare Options offers many options in home care assistance from registered nurses who dispense medication and monitor the patients health to certified aides who help with daily activities such as cooking and bathing to personal grocery shoppers. The programs the non-profit agency offers, 11 in all, also vary from short to long term. Many families benefit from short breaks, which are part of the agencys respite care service.

"Even the most loving and dedicated of children may eventually suffer from what can only be described as burnout," said Wessel. "We are seeing many more patients whose children are entrusting them in our care because they need a break, even if its only for a few weeks or several weekends during the year."

Added Wessel, "In a perfect world, families would all live together in health and happiness. In reality, this doesnt always happen. The decision to bring a stranger into your house, or that of a loved one, is a difficult one. Being properly educated and doing your homework beforehand will make the decision a little easier because you should feel fully confident that the person will be qualified, trustworthy and compassionate."

© Health News 2003 All Rights Reserved.

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