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Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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‘Home health is not just for seniors’

Earlier this month I got an email from Mahogany Hart, with Mary Washington Healthcare, wanting to spread the word about the variety of ways in which home health services can help area residents.

“We want to get a message out that home health is not just for seniors or those who’ve been discharged from the hospital after a surgical procedure,” Hart wrote.

Home health care services, she said, can help people of all ages dealing with certain health problems, “and for seniors, home health can be a preventive service to reduce hospitalizations, medication dosage errors and prevent falls.”

Below, I’ll share an article Hart sent me that elaborates on the ways home health workers can assist people who aren’t sick enough to be or stay hospitalized, but who need help protecting and preserving their health at home.

But first, here’s one important thing to note: People who think they or their loved ones could benefit from home health services should consult their insurance company to see if the services will be covered, or if they’ll need to pay for the care out of their own pockets. The average cost of a home health aide was $20 an hour last year, according to the John Hancock 2011 Cost of Care survey.

Medicare covers home health care under certain circumstances; in general, you must be homebound, under the care of a doctor and need specific kinds of help, such as physical therapy. You can read more about Medicare’s home health benefits here: http://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10969.pdf.

In the Fredericksburg area, there are many agencies providing home health services; I list a few of them at the bottom of this post, along with a link to a resource directory where you can find a fuller listing.

And now here’s the piece Hart sent me about the role of home health workers:

“Before modern medicine, providing medical care in the home was quite common and hospitalization was rare. Today, the trend is to reduce hospital stays to contain costs, so home health care is gaining popularity.

While some people think home health care is only for seniors or the critically disabled, it can be beneficial for anyone who needs routine or occasional medical care and is not mobile or well enough to travel to and from medical facilities. It may be considered for patients of any age who are:

  • Recovering from an illness
  • Undergoing treatment
  • Disabled
  • Chronically ill
  • Terminally ill

Approximately 12 million people in the United States are homebound and require some form of home health care for such common conditions as diabetes, heart failure, chronic skin ulcers, osteoarthritis and hypertension.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that home health care can be an effective solution if someone finds it difficult to travel even short distances and has these circumstances or needs:

  • Recurrent hospitalizations
  • New medications
  • Changes in function
  • New diagnosis
  • Infusion therapy
  • Wound care
  • Ostomy care
  • Catheter tube care
  • Joint replacement

In addition, home health services can be delivered to women having a difficult pregnancy who are on bed rest, or to postpartum women who have had a cesarean wound complication.

Although seniors are not the only people to use home health care, they do represent nearly 70 percent of the U.S. home care population, and there are numerous things to look for when trying to determine if your spouse or parent may need home health care:

  • History of falls
  • Weight loss, diminished appetite or unwillingness to prepare meals
  • Problems with walking or balance, sitting down or rising, or getting in and out of bed
  • Diminished driving skills or recent car accidents
  • Changes in personal grooming or hygiene such as uncombed hair, body odor, infrequent bathing/shaving or wearing unclean or stained clothing
  • Not remembering to take medication or to get prescriptions filled, difficulty managing multiple prescriptions
  • Cluttered or unclean home
  • Paperwork or unpaid bills piling up
  • Loss of interest in socializing or in activities that they once enjoyed
  • Confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating and changes in personality which may be signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease

If a loved one or someone you care for is homebound and experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to the person’s physician about the possibility of home health care. It can help prevent frequent hospitalizations, falls, medication errors and other serious medical conditions, and enhance the person’s sense of well-being and independence, making it possible for them to remain comfortably at home for many more months, or even years.

This information has been provided by Mary Washington Home Health.”

MORE INFORMATION

According to the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging, home health care agencies in the Fredericksburg area include:

  • Amedisys Home Health Care, Frederickburg, 540/371-7422
  • Family Horizons Home Health Care Agency, Inc., Stafford, 540/318-8035
  • Interim Home Health Care 540/785-1577, Fredericksburg
  • Mary Washington Home Health and Hospice, 540/741-1667, Fredericksburg
  • Medi Home Health and Hospice, 540/361-7696, Fredericksburg

For a complete list of local home health agencies, visit the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging’s website, http://www.raaa16.org. Click on “helpful links,” then “resource directory.”

For an overview of home health care services, how to choose a provider and when costs are covered by insurance, click here to visit eldercare.gov.

For a PBS primer on home care overall (not just home health care), click here.

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