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Staying Out of the Hospital


One of the biggest fears for the U.S. aging population is not death – it’s the loss of independence. This can happen when there is a major health event – a fall down the stairs, a heart attack, or the onset of a new chronic condition.

For hospitals, a major concern is their older patients who are readmitted soon after their discharge. Because of this, both patients and hospitals worry about those major events and both seek to find ways to keep them from occurring.

According to a survey conducted earlier this year by drug-maker Pfizer, 64 percent of people older than 65 say they are most afraid of losing their independence or living in pain as they get older. For comparison, only 7 percent say their biggest fear is dying.

Because of these fears, the elderly and their families need solutions like senior home care to ward off problems that cause hospital readmissions. This is also something that hospitals want. On Oct. 1, 2012, Medicare began penalizing hospitals that have high rates of readmissions. This new process, brought about by the health care reform law, means that if a patient is readmitted within 30 days, for any reason, the hospital takes a financial hit to their Medicare reimbursements.

Larry is 83, lives in the West Michigan and is very familiar with the types of major events that can send a person to the hospital. He has diabetes, an aneurism in his aorta, and a pacemaker. He’s had two knee replacements, and one hip replacement.

To help maintain his life at home and away from hospitals, Larry and his wife receive in-home senior care from a professional private duty, in-home care agency–one with high standards about caregiver training and to bringing a feeling of empowerment and independence to its clients. The caregiver, in Larry’s case, comes to the home four days a week for six hours at a time. His schedule was customized, based on exactly what Larry and his family wanted—no more, no less.  The caregiver helps Larry with his continued recovery from his procedure through one-on-one interaction. She also provides Larry’s wife with needed respite relief from handling Larry’s needs.

The caregiver helps him get dressed and drives him where he needs to go. He does not drive anymore, so she takes him to the grocery store, to his social obligations and to any medical appointments (missed medical appointments are one major cause of hospital readmission). She helps him get in and out of the car, does the laundry, and prepares meals for him. Since Larry takes blood thinners, she reminds him to take the pills. She knows to limit his intake of vitamin K, so she avoids too many green, leafy vegetables while still preparing healthy snacks, like minced apples with a sweetener on them. The caregiver also helps Larry manage his oxygen, bringing in his tanks when he needs and setting up the machine for when he wants to take a nap.

“In general, she’s always after me. ‘How do I feel?’ I feel safe with her,” Larry said. “She helps keep things out of the way in the house, or if there are too many leaves on the driveway, she’ll sweep them off so I don’t slip on them going to the mailbox.”

This personal assistance helps Larry avoid another accidental event that could send him back to the hospital, or even to a long-term care facility. The extra pair of eyes provided by the professional caregiver is something both the client and the hospital can rely on to keep him safe.

Additionally, the comfort of being in their own home helps people like Larry keep that feeling of independence, something most people are concerned with losing as they age. A one-on-one caregiver like his is not just a caregiver. She is also a personal assistant who often times offers simple companionship and conversation.

“She’s got a good sense of humor and makes me laugh. She’s a happy camper and that helps – she thinks the glass is half full, not half empty, she’s got that attitude,” he said.

About 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. But according to the Pfizer study, most of the aging population has a positive outlook on what the older part of their life will be like. When asked how they feel about getting old, 42 percent of those in the 50 to 64 age range said they are optimistic – the highest percentage of any age group. Overall, 39 percent selected “optimistic,” which was the top choice. However, “uneasy” was right behind at 36 percent.

As for Larry, he is happy with what is ahead for him, despite his health problems.

“Things are good right now,” he said. “I’m at home and I want to be able to stay home instead of going to the hospital.”