Guide to Caregiving for Older Adults

What is a caregiver?

A caregiver can be defined in so many different ways.  Generally, it is someone who offers emotional and physical support to a loved one.  A caregiver can also weigh in on financial and medical decisions, help with balancing a checkbook or providing medication reminders.  Maybe they help get you dressed, make meals, or tidy your house.  Their chores and the level of support can vary, based on the needs of the person that they are helping.

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Who can be a caregiver?

Fifty years ago, it was not uncommon for generations to live under the same roof.  Grandparents would help raise grandchildren until they, themselves, needed assistance.  With long tenures at jobs, people stayed with their employers and generations assumed care for their elders until the cycle repeated once again. 

Times have changed.  The advent of affordable airfares made travel popular, but with that change, the global economy demanded a more mobile workforce.  Lifetime loyalty to employers is now the exception, rather than the rule.  Hundreds or thousands of miles can now exist between members of the same family, making traditional caregiving impossible.

Family members at either end of the age spectrum have felt the consequences.  Babies are now being sent to day care centers while parents work and seniors are all too often left home alone.  They can become isolated, lonely, depressed, and sometimes live in unsafe conditions.

Thankfully, there are new definitions to caregivers.  Neighbors, friends from church, spouses and even friends from senior centers can all play a role in promoting healthy living and play a role in caregiving.  At some point in our aging process, we may need additional help to remain living at home and independent.  Fortunately, PACE can step in to assist.

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What do caregivers do?

With natural age progression, we slow down and lose function. Perhaps our eyesight is failing and we need help cleaning.  Or we aren’t as agile as we once were and need help bathing and getting dressed.  Maybe our memory fails us at times, and we need reminders as to when to take our medicines.  Sometimes we may just need companionship to cope with grief or ward off depression.  These are some of the major senior health issues that PACE can help address.  PACE social workers and medical professionals work together to tailor a plan to meet your caregiving needs and supplement your existing support systems.  PACE care professionals will work with you and reassess your needs regularly to keep you living safely at home.

Non-Medical Senior Care

Tasks of everyday living can sometimes be difficult for those living with normal senior health issues.  We all become a little bit less flexible, a little more challenged and sometimes just a little more tired so it’s important to ask for help.

Household Help

Reaching for dust bunnies on top of your dresser or straining to vacuum under your couch could be a challenge if you’re a little less flexible than you used to be.  Maybe you’re hesitant to climb a ladder and change a lightbulb because you have vertigo, or you’re afraid to stand in the slippery bathroom to reach to clean the ledge above your shower.  These physical challenges can all be daunting, but having a PACE home health aide who can clean and provide light dusting can really be life-changing.  Living in a clean house can help your health too, especially if you have respiratory challenges and are living with elderly health care issues like asthma or COPD.

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Personal Care

The daily challenges of life as we age are varied.  We used to be able to lean over and tie our shoes in a flash or stretch our arms or reach our hand over our shoulder and pull up a zipper on a dress.  Now we need to thoughtfully consider the tasks of daily living.  Washing our feet or taking a shower might be a scary experience to accomplish alone.  One wrong move can land us in the hospital with a broken hip.

Personal care assistants can offer help bathing and getting dressed each day.  They can change your sheets and do a load of laundry too. These non-medical home care providers are a wonderful asset that PACE can provide to participants who need the extra help to remain living independently.

Companionship

In addition to attending to our physical needs, part-time PACE home care attendants can break up our day and engage us in conversations.  They can keep us mentally stimulated and feeling less isolated and depressed.  Loneliness and isolation aren’t something to dismiss.  Humans need companionship to thrive.  Feeling sad or depressed can cause physical changes and be dangerous to our health. That’s why PACE looks at participants’ health holistically. The emotional support of non-medical home health care plays an important role in our overall wellbeing and can help us recognize signs of depression.

Medical Care

PACE is able to provide varying levels of medical assistance to ensure our physical and mental wellbeing.  When you join PACE, you are provided with a primary care physician who specializes in senior health. That medical professional, called a gerontologist, will help coordinate the supports you need.  They will assess you for chronic health conditions, identify any safety issues in your home, and provide you with home care assistance or home care services if you need them.  

You’ll also be screened for signs of depression and offered behavioral health care for seniors. 

Some participants may benefit from attending the PACE adult day care center.  PACE offers four centers in Rhode Island.  There’s one in Westerly, Woonsocket, Newport and East Providence.  Transportation to and from the center will be provided.  If day center services are right for you, you will have a light breakfast upon arrival, activities throughout the day, a nutritious lunch and a safe ride home each afternoon.

Because participants’ needs change regularly, your care team will meet regularly to talk about your progress and where you might need some more help as you age.  Each PACE employee you meet will play a role in observing and communicating changes in your physical, social and emotional health so that adjustments can be made to improve your quality of life.

You may not come into the adult day care center every day, but you will make visits to the adjacent health clinic which will become your senior health care hub.  You’ll no longer have to look for a specialist or try to schedule an appointment for a test.  PACE will coordinate those errands.  We’ll even give you a ride to your primary care appointment and to any specialists that you may need to see.

PACE clinicians will also come to your home if you need a medical visit.  

Home health care from PACE can be offered at a variety of levels.  Perhaps you forget to take your heart medication some days or aren’t consistent consistently taking your blood pressure if you have hypertension.  PACE can provide medical home care services to assist you in monitoring your health conditions and maintaining your medications.  We’ll provide you with the prescriptions and remind you when to take them.  Most importantly, home health aides work on the same team as your primary care provider, so there will always be clear communication regarding your care.

Next Steps

If you’re 55 or older and are struggling with the day-to-day management of your home and your health, you may be wondering how to find a caregiver or where to get behavioral health care for seniors?  Maybe you’ve lost a partner and you’re looking for ways to cope with grief.  PACE would like to help.

Alternatively, you may be a child, looking for home care a parent.  Maybe you are looking for a senior day care center near you for your mom or dad, or just wondering who can best address healthcare issues regarding the elderly. You may be seeing the physical symptoms of grief in your parent after the loss of their spouse and looking for someone who specializes in senior grief support.  Even if you’re wondering, “Is there is home health care near me,” PACE might be the answer.

What’s the process to enroll in PACE?

First, we will speak with you to see if you meet program qualifications.  Our participants are age 55+ and they live in Rhode Island.  You also need to be living safely on your own in the community when you enroll, but people residing in nursing homes, hospitals or homeless shelters are not eligible.

The second step involves meeting with one of our enrollment associates in your home.  They’ll ask you some questions to see if you may qualify, to ensure you’re safe and to determine some of the supports you may need if you become a PACE participant.  Finally, they’ll help you complete an application and ask for your written permission to move forward with the process.

You’ll also need a medical assessment to be completed by one of our medical providers to determine your needs.

The information you provide, along with the results of your medical evaluation, will be submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services for review.  They’ll determine whether you qualify for PACE and whether you’ll have a cost to participate in the program.

Start the process today.  Call (401) 434-1400 to see if PACE is a good fit for you or your loved one. 

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