Home Care

The best way to make the most of our older years is to take control before we become frail or sick. Most older men and women want to "age" in their own homes as long as they can physically and financially care for themselves. A fall or other injury can make an older person more dependent and vulnerable to fraud and abuse. With that in mind, it is of utmost importance to learn as much as possible about both safety and security.
Remember, over the course of the year there may be many different repairmen, home deliveries, or home care workers who will have unsupervised access to the home. Minimizing temptation and opportunity can reduce the risk for theft and abuse.

The following six steps, combined with frequent visits by family and friends, can help to protect elders, especially those who are homebound:

Prepare the Home

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimates that each year in the United States one in three people older than age 65 suffers a significant fall. Fortunately, many falls and injuries can be prevented when a meaningful effort is made to create a safe environment. A fall can cause serious injury and may push an older patient to a chronic, or even permanent, need for a higher level of care. For example, half the elderly patients hospitalized for hip fracture cannot return home or live independently after the fracture.

There are many ways to increase the safety and security of our homes. Some are as simple as installing brighter lights in the home to compensate for failing eyesight, or providing night lights to mark a clear path to the bathroom at night. Others include installing smoke detectors throughout the home, especially in the kitchen. Installing a burglar alarm system can add to the safety of an elder, especially if the system includes a medical alert feature which can be activated with a remote. Portable and cellular phones facilitate emergency calls, not to mention making it easier for the older person to keep in touch with family and friends.

Safeguard Your Possessions

All cash, jewelry, financial records, checkbooks, and credit cards should be placed in a protected location such as a safe or a safe-deposit box. Social Security, pension and investment checks should be direct-deposited to prevent theft and forgery. Monitor you mail to make certain that you receive your routine monthly financial statements listing recent transactions. Don't just throw them in a drawer unread; check all statements for unusual or unauthorized activity. Shred your junk mail, financial and insurance records before you put them in the trash to reduce the risk of identity theft. If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338) or www.ftc.gov.

Install Medical Equipment

Any medical equipment that helps maintain independence is helpful. Walkers, wheelchairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses and hospital beds are examples. The more active and alert you are, the more protected you are from the risk of abuse or fraud.

Screen Potential Home Care Workers

There are many certified home health care agencies that provide home care service. A home care worker can also be hired independently. Screen all applicants with a prepared telephone interview in which you ask for specific information such as licensing, experience and references, and require that an employment application be filled out and submitted. Do not give your address or any other personal information until you have verified the information gathered in the telephone interview. For the most part, checking a reference or license is not a complicated procedure; however, you must do your homework.

Take Advantage of Respite Care

Many family caregivers devote themselves so fully to their chronically ill spouse or parent that they neglect their own needs. It is important to take time off from the rigors of caring for a family member. Respite care for caregivers is available from visiting nurses, home health aides and other professional home care workers, as well as such sources as senior centers, meals-on-wheels and adult day care centers. The stress relief provided by respite services helps both caregivers and patients. An exhausted caregiver can only provide limited care.

Involve Family and Friends

When all other precautions have been taken and a home health care regimen is established, make frequent, unscheduled visits, positioning the home health care worker as part of a support team.

As the headlines attest, using unreliable providers who entice clients with "bargain priced" care can lead to tragedy. But patients and their families can protect themselves from elder fraud and abuse. Additional information is available by reading Tom Cassidy's book, Elder Care/What To Look For/What To Look Out For! (New Horizon Press, 2004).