It often makes sense to move to a smaller, low-maintenance abode and have a simpler lifestyle as we get older. Esti Mintz found her just-right place in a condo near University Village in Seattle. “I bought it even before they dug the hole,” she recalls. Mintz, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, was able to refine the design of her brand-new dwelling so it was more accessible, and she has lived there happily since 2002.
Yet after a bad fall three years ago, Mintz faced a sudden end to her career at Microsoft and a long stay in a rehabilitation center. She could have stayed there or chosen another assisted living home, “but I have my own place,” she says. “All I wanted was to come home.” She researched the possibilities and chose Family Resource Home Care as a way to remain independent in the place she loves.
Home care is different from home health care, which is short-term, physician-ordered, Medicare-reimbursed care that usually follows a specific event like a stroke or surgery. Often, potential recipients or their adult children aren’t aware of home health care benefits, so Sheila McKannay of Family Resource Home Care always advises clients to ask about those benefits first.
By contrast, home care is non-skilled assistance, from personal care and light housekeeping to medication reminders, companionship, and respite care for family members. Many home care clients get help for a just few hours a week. The service can be especially helpful for busy families and for out-of-town relatives who want to be sure their loved one is eating well and taking needed medications.
Medicare does not reimburse for home care, which typically costs between $25 and $40 an hour in Western Washington if arranged via a licensed agency. (Among other things, home care agencies do background checks on their caregivers, handle tax and liability issues, and provide backup care.) Washington state does have programs to help people who medically and financially qualify for in-home assistance.
Moudy Remlinger arrives every weekday morning to help Mintz get out of bed and shower. In the three hours they have together, Remlinger also tidies up the place and prepares meals that Mintz can eat later in the day. Sometimes, the two women make food together—or, as Mintz puts it, “I look and she cooks.” Another caregiver, Ghrmawit Berhane, arrives in the evening to help Mintz get to bed. “It’s been much easier than I expected to accept help,” says Mintz. “I thought it would be really hard, but I feel good about it.”
“Esti is easygoing,” says Remlinger, who was named the Washington Home Care Association’s Caregiver of the Year in 2016 and has worked for Family Home Resource Care for three years. “She’s like a good friend.” Mintz adds that having home care allows her to enjoy life beyond her health issues, including occasional journeys to the museum and symphony and even to Olympia to advocate for legislation to benefit people with MS—a trip she recently took with Remlinger. “She helps me be as good as I can be,” Mintz says. “When she’s done with me, I’m fine.”
Paid in-home care is a good choice for many people, and other creative options are on the rise, too. (See the articles in this issue on accessible home remodeling and on the dues-based Village to Village Network taking root in many Northwest communities.) Another program, Senior Companions, welcomes volunteers to help other adults beat isolation and avoid more costly care. Senior Companions is part of the federal Senior Corps programs, which also include Foster Grandparents and RSVP. Volunteers (who must be 55 or older and have a limited income) receive a small hourly stipend; there are no age nor income restrictions for recipients.
“In a nutshell, it’s seniors helping seniors,” says Sarah Call, who manages volunteers for the Senior Companions program at Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Tacoma. Companions do anything from visiting the doctor or grocery shopping to attending a swimming or yoga class together. “I have clients who just sit at home and play a game of Scrabble, take a walk, or go see a movie together,” adds Call. “They create a lasting friendship.”
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services can help older adults and their families learn about available options for aging in place. For a list of state and local resources, visit dshs.wa.gov and search for “Services that help an adult remain at home.”
The Washington Home Care Association’s member agencies commit to industry best-practice standards. Learn more at wahca.org.
Senior Companions provide friendship and assistance to other seniors. Homage Senior Services runs the program in King and Snohomish counties (sssc.org; 425-879-7050). In Pierce and Kitsap counties, contact Lutheran Community Services Northwest (lcsnw.org; 253-272-8433).
Julie Fanselow is enthusiastic about aging. She started seriously streamlining her possessions at age 50 and is eager for the day she can live large with an even smaller footprint. Read more from Julie on her blog at surelyjoy.blogspot.com.