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Whether the person is a loving family member or a paid caregiver, caring for an elderly person can be a challenging job. The caregiver is responsible for that person's well-being, daily living assistance, and even administrative tasks. Caregiver assistance enables the elderly person to stay in their home and not move to an assisted living center or nursing home. As the person being cared for ages or becomes increasingly ill, the caregiver duties will increase and often become more demanding.
A Full-time Job
A caregiver's duties are not a 9-5 day like many other jobs. And for family members, it's an unpaid job. Most caregivers work 24 hours a day and live in the home. But in some cases, the caregiver has another job or other family responsibilities to maintain.
Caring for someone who is in a wheelchair or has very little mobility is physically demanding for caregivers. Transferring someone from chair to bed or bath takes strength. Often, training on how to safely move someone is required.
The job may include some or all of the following:
- Making sure the patient takes their medications
- Grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning
- Help them with eating, bathing, dressing and using the toilet
- Paying bills, filling out insurance forms
- Taking them to the doctor or other outside appointments
- Keeping them company and being an emotional support
- Being in contact with family members, doctors, and other healthcare providers
- Looking after home maintenance
Does Medicare Pay for Caregivers?
Unfortunately, Medicare does not pay for caregivers. Medicare does pay for what is called "respite" care if the person being cared for is in a Hospice program. This gives the caregiver a break from their job. The patient goes to a respite care facility for a short-term stay and receives their medical care there. The respite facilities must be Medicare-approved for this to be covered.
There are resources for providing private respite care in most communities. If there is supplemental insurance, check to see if there is a benefit for respite care that's covered. Otherwise, any care will have to be paid out-of-pocket. But some home health care services, like nursing care, are covered by Medicare.
Does Medicare Pay for Home Health Care?
Sometimes, caregivers are assisted by home health services. Some home health services are covered under Medicare. Assistance with daily living is not paid for—the primary caregiver usually does this anyway. Home health services are covered under Medicare Part B.
There are some guidelines about what home health services Medicare will cover:
- Their doctor must decide the person needs medical care at home
- The person must be homebound—leaving the home is a major effort
- The home health agency must be Medicare-certified
- The person must meet qualifications under Medicare guidelines
- They must need part-time nursing care, physical therapy, speech language therapy, or occupational therapy
If You Are the Caregiver
Even if the patient qualifies for some help from home health services, your job still covers everything else that's involved in caregiving. It can be even more difficult if the person requires nursing and other therapies—that usually means that they require additional help with things like daily living activities.
Fortunately, doctors and other healthcare providers have begun to realize that the job of being a caregiver takes a toll—physically, emotionally and spiritually. A great deal of that is due to the nature of the job and the people who do it. Caregivers often take excellent care of others, but neglect their own care.
Because of this awareness, there are many support options available for caregivers. There are resources in most communities, hospitals, counseling centers, and online. Below are some of those resources.
- Help with Medicare: Understanding Medicare takes time. It's important for both you and the patient to know about their benefits under Medicare, how to file a claim, how to find Medicare-approved providers, etc. There is an entire section of the website Medicare.gov devoted to this information: http://www.medicare.gov/caregivers/
- Support Groups: Many hospitals and your local Area Agency on Aging will have information on support groups just for caregivers.
- Other family members: If there are other family members that could give you a break or take on some of the responsibilities of your job, ask them.
- Alzheimer's or other support groups: If the person you're caring for has Alzheimer's, cancer, or another illness, there are support groups and information for caregivers that is specific to helping someone with that disease.
Take Care of Yourself
Pay attention to how YOU are doing. Here are some things to do to prevent caregiver "burnout." Do the following, even when you think you "don't have time."
- Eat healthy meals, exercise, and get enough sleep
- Make time for friends and do things for yourself
- Ask for help if you need it from family, friends or community resources
Watch for signs of burnout:
- You're tired and have less energy than usual
- You're having trouble sleeping
- Even after sleep, you feel exhausted
- You aren't taking good care of yourself because you are "too busy"
- You are impatient or irritable with the person you're caring for
- You aren't able to relax
- You often feel depressed or anxious
Medical studies have shown that caregivers have one of the highest-stress jobs. It's important to get help for yourself if necessary. You won't be able to care for someone else if you aren't well.