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Home Health and Home Care 101


As your loved one ages, they might start to need more help at home, yet trying to find the right type of in-home care can be confusing. Many families feel overwhelmed by their options and the differences among them. This glossary of terms will help you understand your home health and home care options.

Types of In-home Care

In-home care is when someone assists a person in their home, which includes assisted living residences, senior housing communities, or nursing homes, with medical and nonmedical needs. There are two types of in-home care: home health care and home care.

Home Health Care

Also known as skilled care, home health care is medical care provided by a licensed medical professional. Examples of skilled home health services include physical, occupational, and speech therapy; wound care, catheter and colostomy care, and diabetes care; and social work services.

Home Care

Also known as private services, home care is nonmedical care provided by caregivers, usually called home care aides, that focuses on helping seniors with the daily activities they need to engage in life and remain safe and healthy. Examples of home care services include companion care, personal care, transportation services, and memory care services.

Types of Services Provided

Because the terms “home health” and “home care” are incredibly similar, many people use them interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between the two services. Here are some helpful definitions.

Nursing Care

The most common form of home health care is some type of nursing care. Nursing care may include wound dressing, ostomy care, intravenous therapy, administering medication, monitoring, pain control, and other health support.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps regain or strengthen the use of muscles and joints.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy assists someone with physical, developmental, social, or emotional disabilities relearn how to perform such daily functions as eating, bathing, dressing, and more.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy can help someone with impaired speech regain the ability to communicate clearly.

Medical Social Services

Medical social workers provide various services, including counseling, locating community resources, and coordinating many services.

Companion Care

Companion care is primarily emotional support and companionship for seniors who are generally healthy and who want to remain independent at home. Some companions may also perform household duties.

Homemaker Care

Homemaker services include help with chores or tasks can maintain the household, such as meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, and other housekeeping items.

Personal Care

Personal care services typically include bathing, grooming, dressing, skin care, and toileting and incontinence care.

Memory Care

Home-based memory care services are focused on providing a nurturing environment and stimulating activities and decreasing anxiety related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Respite Care

Respite care provides short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks.

Types of In-home Care Professionals

Different home-based care workers are each responsible for providing specific types of care and services. Here’s a look at the of the various types of in-home care professionals who could be on your caregiving team.

Personal Care Aides

Personal care aides provide personal care in addition to other non-medical care services, such as companion care and homemaker care. There are no federally mandated training requirements for personal care aides.

Home Health Aides

Home health aides assist clients with personal care tasks, light housekeeping tasks, and tasks related to preparing and serving meals. They may also provide some basic health-care-related services. Home health aides who work for agencies that are funded by Medicare or Medicaid must meet minimum standards of training.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNAs)

Certified nursing assistants assist with the delivery of nursing care by performing basic nursing tasks, including helping with personal hygiene and grooming, assisting with toileting, helping with transfers, and measuring vital signs. All CNAs must complete a minimum of 75 hours of training through a state-approved training program and pass the state’s certification exam. Some CNAs receive additional training that allows them to assist with medications or other more advanced nursing procedures.

Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPNs/LVNs)

Licensed practical/vocational nurses help plan and deliver certain types of nursing care under the direction of a registered nurse.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

Registered nurses perform assessments, develop care plans, provide nursing care, and supervise other members of the nursing team, including licensed practical/vocational nurses, home health aides, and certified nursing assistants. Registered nurses often function as case managers.

Case Managers

Case managers are responsible for planning, coordinating, and overseeing all aspects of the care that someone receives.

Types of Agencies

Many different types of agencies offer home-based care services. Here are a few of the most common types of agencies.

Home Health Agencies

If you need skilled home care services, they will usually be given by a home health agency. The same agency may offer different home care services. Agencies that provide both home health and home care are often called full-service home health agencies.

Home Care Agencies

If you just need help with private care, such as companion care, personal care, transportation services, and memory care services, you can work with a home care agency.

Visiting Nurses Association (VNA)

The Visiting Nurses Association is a nonprofit home-based care provider. VNA members range from independent, free-standing home health and hospice agencies to home health and hospice providers that are affiliated with or owned by integrated health care systems.For an in-depth look at the home health and home care options available, signs your loved one needs additional help or support at home, how home health and home care professionals are trained and licensed, and how to pay for home health and home care services, download our Guide to Home Health & Home Care Services.

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