Home Care vs. Home Health Care

There is a Difference

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When people are in need of home care services, there is often a crisis and not a lot of time to learn about the various types of care available to them or their loved one who needs care. Many of the terms sound similar and in fact, the services can overlap, adding to the perplexity.

A need for care can happen suddenly, and an AARP and National Caregiving Alliance study found that nearly half of the caregivers felt that they had no choice in taking on the responsibility of providing care for a loved one.

The study also showed that the average duration of caregiving is four years and that on average, caregivers spend about 24.4 hours a week providing care. Those hours and years add up and can impact a caregivers health and ability to work and meet other responsibilities.

This is when professional care might enter the picture to provide specialized care that a family member is not skilled to do or to provide respite for the family.

What Home Care Is (and Isn’t)

When someone cannot do the things that they used to do for themselves—like clean the house, pay the bills, drive to the store, get safely in and out of the bath or shower—they need help with Activities of Daily (ADLs) or IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living).

The AARP/NAC study found that six in 10 caregivers help their loved one with at least one ADL, most typically getting in and out of bed or a chair. However, one in four of these caregivers also reported that it is difficult for them to provide this assistance.

As you might expect, the most difficult ADLs to help with involved personal care tasks, like dealing with incontinence or diapers or using the toilet.

Home care includes what are sometimes called “non-skilled” caregivers, in that they are not skilled in the same way as a physical therapist or nurse.

Yet with reputable agencies, these caregivers regularly take classes and training in order to prepare for specific types of caregiving such as caring for someone living with dementia or Parkinson’s disease. These professional caregivers may also bring innate patience, kindness, and understanding to a tense family dynamic that can benefit from involving a neutral third-party. Hiring a professional caregiver to do some of those personal tasks like helping with using the bathroom, can let an adult son or daughter maintain their role as an adult child rather than become a hands-on caregiver to their parent.

Included in typical home care services are the following:

  • Transportation for running errands like going to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store
  • Medication reminders
  • Assistance with getting in and out of bed or from a chair
  • Assistance with personal grooming such as getting dressed or safely getting in and out of the bath or shower
  • Meal preparation
  • Companionship as someone to play games, take walks or engage in conversation with

What Home Healthcare Is (and Isn’t)

Home healthcare may involve a prescription from a doctor who is including physical or occupational therapy or skilled nursing as part of a recovery plan.

This distinction means that home healthcare is often covered by medical insurance whereas home care is typically private pay or covered by long-term care insurance. 

Medical professionals are part of home healthcare and can provide care for wounds, administer medications, and assist with physical exercises that are part of recuperating from a surgery. These types of therapeutic care are most often associated with home healthcare and are often short-term, such as a physical therapist who comes in for two one-hour shifts per week.

The differences between home care and home healthcare can be subtle on a state-by-state level as licensing laws are not uniform between the states.

Therefore, a home care agency may have a registered nurse and a social worker on staff, as well as caregivers.

Working Together

The best-case scenario is when home care and home healthcare work together to improve a person’s ability to function independently as much as possible. For example, a man has physical therapy three days a week, but he cannot dress himself prior to the arrival of the therapist. An in-home caregiver can come before the therapist arrives and help with any grooming and dressing needs, then while the therapist guides the man through the necessary exercises, the caregiver can prepare lunch for the client.

Due to the differences in how people can pay for these services, it can be beneficial to learn how they can be used in tandem for the greatest gain for all involved.

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