The Layperson’s Guide to Home Health Care for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Part of the caregiving team we will lead for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will – and should – include home health care, palliative care, and hospice. It is, therefore, important to understand what each of these services provides and under what circumstances.

Home health care is generally provided – if it is not offered, then we should request it as part of the discharge process – after our loved ones are hospitalized for an acute serious illness that is causing systemic problems (strokes, heart disease, hard-to-manage blood pressure, embolisms, and continuously low oxygen saturation levels are some examples of acute serious illnesses) or surgery that requires follow-up monitoring and wound care. 

What services are included in home health care?

Nurses, who function as case managers, will come to the home from one to three times a week (depending on the severity of need) to do a thorough examination of our loved ones, provide wound care (if applicable), and serve as the liaison with both the primary care provider for status updates and medication changes (if needed) and with other services included in home health care.

I strongly advise, especially for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, to request that the same nurse – if he or she is a good fit – do all the home visits to ensure continuity and to create comfort and trust for our loved ones. If the nurse is not a good fit, then we should request a change. Generally, it will be obvious on the first visit.

Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are also services offered by home health care. At the very least, I would suggest taking advantage of physical therapy and occupational therapy. For our loved ones who have suffered strokes and are recovering, speech therapy should be included as well.

Hospitalizations always leave our loved ones weaker physically than they were before being admitted, because with acute illnesses and surgeries, they usually spend a lot of time lying in bed and are not as physically active. In the case of strokes, motor skills are usually severely affected on one side of the body, although in some cases both sides are affected (depending on where the stroke originated in the brain).

Physical therapy will begin in the hospital in some cases, such as with strokes or joint replacements, but most hospitalizations will not include this as part of treatment.

Therefore, it’s vital to our loved ones’ health to use the physical therapy services provided by home health care to regain strength and to keep them as mobile as possible for as long as possible. In the case of strokes, it’s imperative to continue physical therapy as part of the recovery at home.

Physical therapists will visit the home, on average, twice a week and will help us and our loved one with exercises and activities to do on a daily basis to continue strengthening and improving balance, mobility and motor skills. They will also order any mobility equipment – if we don’t have it already – such as walkers and wheelchairs, if needed.

Occupational therapy helps identify what physical adaptions of the home need to be made to make daily activities easier and safer for our loved ones. These include things like grip bars near the toilet for ease of getting up (or a sturdy raised toilet seat with bars – my preference), grip bars in the shower or tub to prevent falls, and transfer seats for the tub to make getting in and out easier. They can also identify safety hazards – for example, throw rugs are very hazardous for elderly and those using walkers – in the home.

Additionally, occupational therapists can help our loved ones with functionally-appropriate ways to do everyday things. While our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease generally find their own unique adaptive ways with our help, occupational therapists are critical in the recovery or maintenance of people who have suffered strokes.

home-health-careSpeech therapy can be helpful for people who have suffered strokes. In the case of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, in general, speech therapy is not a viable option.

The nurse (case manager) will contact these therapists as warranted and set up the initial consultation appointments. Each therapist will then set up his or her own visitation schedule.

If additional assistance is needed with daily activities such as bathing, most home health care agencies have home health aides who will come at least twice a week to help with with those activities.

One of the best features of home health care is our access to 24/7 medical support. As anyone who has been a caregiver knows, the need for medical advice and/or assistance often occurs at night and on weekends. Without home health care, the only option is to take our loved ones to a hospital emergency room (nights) or an urgent care facility (on weekends).

Many of the medical issues that occur are easily treatable at home, so having to get our loved ones to a medical facility where they often have to wait for a considerable amount of time to be seen, treated and released is very stressful and hard on them.

With the 24/7 medical support of home health care, we can easily assist our loved ones at home without creating unnecessary stress and discomfort for them.

Home health care services are covered by health insurance (if under age 65) or, if 65 or older, by Medicare Part A (80%) and Part B Supplemental Insurance (20%) and should not incur any out-of-pocket costs for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

We should be aware that most hospitals partner with a particular home health care agency in the area (most of the corporations that own hospitals have a home health care agency as a business unit in their corporate structure), but we should research – the best (and worst) referrals come from other people who’ve used an agency’s service – all the home health care agencies in the area we live in and choose the one that best suits the needs of our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

All home health care agencies are not created equal. Some provide excellent care and service and some do not.

When our loved ones are discharged from the hospital, a discharge coordinator will be involved and he or she will initiate our request for home health care (again, they will not always offer it, but we should always request it). If we don’t have a preference, he or she will use the home health care agency the hospital partners with. If we do have a preference, we should state that. Then he or she will contact that home health care agency to provide follow-up care in the home.

It’s important to be aware as well that we have the right to fire a home health care agency and, going through our loved ones’ primary care providers, get a referral to another home health care agency that we choose.

We should not and do not have to accept poor or inadequate care for our loved ones, nor do we have to accept a situation where the attitude of the staff is poor or indifferent and where the staff does not treat our loved ones with respect, kindness, dignity, and gentleness.

If the home health care agency providing care for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is not satisfactory, for whatever reason, then today is the day to make the change to another home health care agency. We owe our loved ones the best, the most professional, and the most respectful medical care available. Never settle for anything less than that.

In the next post, we’ll look at the option of palliative care and when it is used and what services it offers.


New Book: “You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease”

I’ve just written and published my newest book, You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

It is available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

I’ll include the short summary from Amazon I wrote for the book:

You Oughta Know: Recognizing, Acknowledging, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer's Disease“This book looks comprehensively at all the steps that occur in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In my own experience with this and in counseling, supporting, and working with others who are going through these steps, I realized there is a basic lack of comprehension about the big picture of how these neurological diseases progress.

I know that because the same questions get asked and answered over and over again.

My purpose is to ask those questions and answer them in a way that, first, makes sense, and, second, works for everybody involved.

I know. I’ve been on the caregiving side of the equation personally. There were no books like this when I did it, so I had to learn on my own and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes. You’ll make mistakes.

But, in the end, my mom and whoever you love and are caring for, got the best we have to give and we can learn some pretty incredible and good life lessons along the way.

If you don’t read another book on this subject, you should read this one. I don’t have all the answers, but the answers I have learned are the ones that probably matter most.

Not just now, but for the rest of our lives.” 

This book also includes the last step that we take alone without our loved ones: grief. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and although I will never not feel the grief on some level, I’ve learned some lessons that I know will help each of you.

Medical Advocacy and Support and Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Author’s note: I originally posted this in June 2013, but I will now be reposting this every month, because it is one of the most important ways in which we can help and support our loved ones with dementias, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other age-related illnesses (“Going Gentle Into That Good Night: A Practical and Informative Guide For Fulfilling the Circle of Life For Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease“) offers a more comprehensive list of the areas in which we can offer help and support to our loved ones).


Today’s post will discuss our role as medical advocates and medical support for our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s disease. Here I will provide practical advice and suggestions, from my own experience, in managing the medical aspect as easy, as straightforward, and as  un-disruptive for our loved ones as possible.

The very first thing we need to do as caregivers is to make sure medical wishes and medical legal authority – medical power of attorney – are documented and authorized (primary care physicians can do this; I suggest getting them notarized as well). Hopefully, these have been discussed enough so that either our loved ones have already taken care of them or we know what they want and are able to execute them ourselves.

For anyone reading this who is not a caregiver or suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, now is the time to think about these because time and chance happen to us all. For those of us who are caregivers, these are documents we need to locate and keep in one place.

A medical power of attorney document designates who will make decisions when the person drawing up the document is unable to.

Living willA living will essentially specifies whether a person wants everything done possible to keep them alive, no matter how long, how futile, and how expensive or whether only comfort care is given when it’s clear that the end of life is at hand.

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) document states that the person does not want to be resuscitated if he or she stops breathing.

I suggest getting a briefcase or backpack to keep all the documents related to the medical care for our loved ones in. The briefcase or backpack should be accessible at all times, so it goes everywhere we and our loved ones go.

The medical power of attorney, living will, and DNR should be kept together in a folder in the briefcase or backpack. The other items in this backpack should include medical history documents and an up-to-date list of of medications (I’ve attached a sample Excel spreadsheet you can download and for this). Get an inexpensive wallet to put a photo id and Medicare Part A and Part B cards in and keep that in the briefcase or backpack as well. Always have something (electronic or pen and paper) to take notes with.

It is important to remember that we caretakers have a responsibility to advocate for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease with all medical professionals (primary care physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, dentists, hospital staff, home health staff, and hospice staff). However, it is equally important to remember that, unless our loved ones are in the dying process and, therefore, unresponsive, that we need to include them in all conversations, explain to them what is being discussed and why, and make sure the medical personnel include them as well.

While our loved ones may not understand everything, we must not treat nor let anyone else treat them as if they are invisible. This is probably one of the greatest gifts of love and respect we can show them.

We have to usually initiate this by stopping the conversation the medical professional is having with us, turn to our loved ones and hold their hands, make eye contact, and explain. Eventually, the medical professional will make eye contact with both us and our loved ones.

The reality is that we don’t really know how much our loved ones comprehend or understand. It’s my personal belief that they understand more than the diseases allow them to respond to. I also know that touch and inclusion are two basic needs we all share as humans, so it’s essential that our loved ones never feel excluded or unloved.

Hospitalizations are hard on elderly people. I don’t know all the reasons why, so I wouldn’t begin to speculate (although I have some opinions about it) as to why. For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, hospitalizations are not just hard, but extremely traumatic because of unfamiliarity of everything: people, place, and routine. Going into a hospitalization, we as caregivers must be aware that it will be a setback for our loved ones when they come home.

hospitalizationBecause of the traumatic effect of hospitalizations on our loved ones, it is critical that we as caregivers stay with them as much as we’re able during the hospitalizations. We are, even if some of the time they don’t know who we are, familiar. And our presence can help neutralize some of the fear and anxiety that often occurs during hospitalizations. 

Always have a “hospital bag” with clothes, toiletries, and other things our loved ones need packed. That bag goes every time we take our loved ones to the ER or with us as we follow an EMS transport. (It is imperative to be sure to wash the clothes from the hospital stay immediately and separately from any other laundry when we get home.)

Spend the night for as long as our loved ones are hospitalized. I know, because I’ve spent way more nights than I could ever count with my mom – even before her dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease diagnoses because I didn’t want her to be all alone – in the hospital, that there’s iffy sleep, awful coffee, and not-so-great food. But our loved ones are worth it. 

But spending the night has an additional, and equally-important, benefit. Most doctors make rounds between 7 pm and 8 pm in the evening and between 6 am and 8 am in the morning, so by spending the night we’re always there when the doctors are there so we can be current on what’s going on with our loved ones. I’ve found that, in general, hospital nurses either don’t know much or are too busy to take the time to give you real updates, so the only in-depth information you’re going to get will be from the doctors.

The other benefit of staying with our loved ones is that we can make sure they get the quality care and attention they need. It’s been my experience that most hospitals simply to don’t have enough staff to provide much personalized care, so if there is no one there with the patient, the patient just has to wait until someone gets around to him or her. By us being there, we can ensure that our loved ones are clean, taken care of, and not uncomfortable in any way physically. That’s one of the best ways we can serve them.

As I mentioned, expect a setback after hospitalization. It can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. Recovery will eventually occur, but it’s important to know that it will never return to the pre-hospitalization state. That’s just the nature of these diseases.

It’s important to be patient, loving, kind, gentle, and tender no matter what. It’s my opinion that most of the behavior is a way of expressing fear, so it’s important that we allay those fears and help our loved ones feel safe again. It takes time and a lot of deep breaths sometimes, but this is another way we show them how much we love them.

Guide to In-Home Medical Care Options for Our Loved Ones Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

This post discusses home health care, palliative care, and hospice care options. Included in the video below are descriptions of each of these options and recommendations and advice, from my personal experience as a loving caregiver for my mom, about each one.

To begin the video, simply click on the “Play” arrow and the video will play (there is no sound).

Please continue to give me feedback on topics you’d like to see discussed here. This is our blog and, while I’ve got content that I’ve prepared and am preparing, I would also like to address any topics, concerns, and questions you have about providing loving caregiving to our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias.