Several alternative levels of health services available for senior citizens and their families

COURTESY GORDON JACKSONKearn Cherry is operations manager of PRN Home Care, a company that provides service for seniors who are at home.
COURTESY GORDON JACKSONKearn Cherry is operations manager of PRN Home Care, a company that provides service for seniors who are at home.

Sooner or later, many middle generation, working families make an uncomfortable discovery when they visit aging loved ones. Something's not right.

"Typically, it's during the holidays," said Kearn Cherry, operations manager for PRN Home Care. "The parents don't want to tell the kids what's going on. But the kids will come home and notice that Mom and Dad are forgetting a little bit more than normal."

A critical family meeting is called and everyone decides the loved one is in need of extra personal and health care. Sometimes, family members ambitiously and sincerely attempt to provide that care themselves, but often a rude awakening arises.

"In the South, there's a lot of people moving back home closer to their parents and are able to be around a little bit more and help with care," Cherry said. "But at some point you're just going to feel like you're burning out. So your first easy option is to add home care."

If living alone, however, is no longer an option for a senior citizen or senior couple, it doesn't necessarily mean permanent admittance to a 24-hour nursing home is the next step. There are now several alternatives a family can explore.

"Not everyone needs someone 24/7; sometimes only having someone maybe twice a week helps," said Mary Sukiennik, co-owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Ocean Springs. "Sometimes, just a few hours a week

make a big difference in a lot of people's lives."

Non-medical, in-home service

Both Sukiennik's and Cherry's companies provide seniors with non-medical in-home care services that center on giving them the ability to maintain a routine and stable lifestyle so that they remain at home.

Many of the services range from basic household chores such as laundry, changing bed linen, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and cooking meals to more health-related services such as reminding seniors to take their medications and taking them to their doctor's appointments.

"They are the simple things but things that have to be done every day for people to keep their routine," Sukiennik said. "Our clients want to stay home as long as possible; if those things aren't done, they don't get to stay there."

More delicate issues

Those services also can extend to seniors with more delicate health issues such as Alzheimer's or incontinence, with duties like bathing/showering or taking them to the bathroom.

Home Instead Senior Care provides services from a minimum three-hour block, one day a week to serving clients 24 hours a day, which can include night shifts for clients diagnosed with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's.

"Some of my clients only have someone at night, like from 8 at night to 8 in the morning," Sukiennik said.

PRN Home Care provides similar time schedules.

Even more important than the tangible services provided, others such as taking the senior shopping or just having someone to engage in a conversation can be emotionally and mentally fulfilling as well.

"Many of our clients are in their 80s," Sukiennik said. "Their families might not live here or their friends may have passed, so they don't have anybody to talk to, visit with or reminisce about the old days. The caregivers provide companionship and that's a very important aspect of what we do."

Making a decision

When a family contacts a home care senior assistance company, oftentimes referred by a doctor's office or medical facility, specialty nurses are sent to evaluate the senior's situation in their home and a "care plan" is developed.

The home care business then coordinates with all of the others in the senior's life, helping streamline the links to that person's health status.

"We feel like when a family member calls, they're typically searching; they don't want to make 20 calls to get to one person," Cherry said.

Several options

Cherry listed several tiers of healthcare options seniors and their families can look at, which factors in wide combinations of health and housing services, eligibility requirements and costs: home health care, adult day care, co-housing, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Cherry also has co-published the guide "R.I.P.E. Senior Care Resources" as an addition to her home health care business.

Contacts: Home Instead Senior Care, 818-6110; PRN Home Care, 385-2603.