Just because someone has reached the age of 65 doesn’t mean they want to change the way they live. The Baby Boomers who are now starting to reach retirement are known for independence, and for those who need help to maintain their lifestyle, home health care providers are stepping up to help them do just that. “We have caregivers who will travel with our clients out of town to Florida or other places, so that they have the care they need and can continue with the lifestyle that they like,” says Ryan Whittington, director of operations at Seniors Home Care.
Home health care providers offer a range of services to seniors that often includes transportation, medication reminders, help with light housework and in some cases, skilled nursing visits. Care for most home health providers can range from a one-hour visit per week to 24/7 care. At Seniors Home Care, a staff of registered nurses and certified caregivers offer care on a regularly scheduled basis, or on an as-needed basis through the Express Club service, Whittington says. An initial assessment with a registered nurse helps determine a plan of care, and a review assessment is scheduled at 30-, 60- or 90-day intervals, depending on the level of care, says founder Kit Whittington. However, she adds, if a caregiver or the family calls attention to an additional need, reviews happen more frequently.
Homewatch CareGivers, a nonmedical home care provider, offers a similar assessment, says owner Mike Gianino. “We assess the situation to figure out what the needs are and match up the need to the skill set of the caregiver, and put a care plan in place that’s tailored just for them,” he says. “When you’re successful, obviously the quality of life is enhanced for the client, and the sanity and peace of mind for children and love ones is enhanced. We like to call it a win, win, win.” He stresses the importance of having “the right caregiver in place, and the same caregiver all the time,” since a consistent caregiver can more easily understand the client’s routines, needs, and likes and dislikes. “You want them to feel safe and comfortable in their own home, you don’t want them to feel isolated. They should be able to enjoy the world they’re living in.”
Care might start out small and increase as the client needs more help, or it might start after the client is released from the hospital following surgery and taper off as normal function is regained, Gianino notes. Often, he says, the company helps clients who are living alone after the death of a spouse, but a caregiver also can be helpful to a married couple, where one spouse is providing care for the other. “Adult children will come to us and say, Mom’s trying to take care of Dad and it’s killing her doing it, she’s exhausted,” he says. “We can take that burden away from her and provide him with hands-on care at the same time.”
Many times, the services providers offer seem simple—help with bathing, running errands or doing light housework—but they’re the things that allow people to stay safely in familiar surroundings, says Paula DiCampo, a registered nurse at Advanced Nursing Services. “Once there’s an issue with those little things, they become big things, and that’s key to maintaining that independence,” she notes. Often, she witnesses a phenomenon called ‘sundowners,’ which means those people function normally during the day, but their mental capacity wanes with the sunlight. Someone who wakes up frequently at night and gets disoriented or is at risk for falling might need an overnight companion in their home, she says.
“A lot of people are very independent and tend to say I don’t need anyone to help me, I can do it myself. We’re very reluctant to say we need help,” DiCampo says. “Prevention is just huge and that’s my message to any family dealing with an elderly parent or grandparent. The goal is to help them to be safe, keep those bones intact and to help them help themselves.”
OFFERING A SAFETY NET
A number of area nonprofits also provide a variety of benefits to the community. Mid-East Area Agency on Aging provides home-delivered meals, liquid nutritional supplements and incontinence products to seniors who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them, says longtime board member Alice Handelman. These items are vitally important, but are not covered by most insurance policies, or Medicare and Medicaid, except under special circumstances, Handelman notes. “These people can afford to stay in their homes because often the homes are paid for, but these are very expensive supplies,” she says.
Handelman adds that homedelivered meals provide more than good nutrition—they’re also a good source of social interaction. “You have a friendly face that says, Hi Mrs. Smith, how are you? I hope you’re having a good day. Is there any special need that you have?” Handelman says. “They can see if this person’s health is deteriorating, and support can be provided.” The agency serves St. Louis city and county, along with Franklin, Jefferson and St. Charles counties, and also provides senior centers in all of those areas, Handelman says. “The senior centers are all over the place and many of them offer exercise programs and health and dance programs,” she says. “They serve as community focal points for older citizens, provide hot meals and deliver meals to all eligible homebound seniors.”
St. Louis NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community), a program offered by Jewish Federation of St. Louis, also offers a variety of opportunities for seniors to socialize. “Socialization is important to mental health, and when your mental health is good, generally your physical health benefits, as well,” says St. Louis NORC manager Karen Berry-Elbert. “We’re open to anybody in the community coming to our on-site programs that provide education and intellectual stimulation, health and wellness information—anything that we think will help people enhance their lives.” For example, NORC offers computer classes through St. Louis County Library, and trips to exhibits such as Saint Louis Art Museum’s Monet’s Water Lilies and Missouri History Museum’s Civil War exhibition, she notes.
Additional services are offered within NORC’s service area, which spans from Lindbergh Boulevard to the east side of Craig Road, mainly north of Olive Boulevard, Berry-Elbert says. Those services include in-home assessments that help residents make their home safer by making simple adjustments like adding grab bars in the bathroom. The program also offers information and referral services, so that even if NORC can’t address a specific concern, they will help seniors find an agency that can. ElderLink, another service of Jewish Federation St. Louis, also provides information on financial, legal or housing resources, along with aging in-place, employment and more.
“It’s not the end of the world going into a nursing home, there are people who really have enjoyed tremendous quality of life living in an assisted living community,” Handelman says. “But if you have a choice and have friends and family, staying in your home as long as possible is certainly a choice that most people would prefer.”